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18 March 2021

Why the Alex Salmond inquiry ruling won’t determine Nicola Sturgeon’s fate

The expected finding that Sturgeon misled parliament will either be a partisan talking point – or an irrelevance.

By Stephen Bush

The Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against Alex Salmond will conclude that Nicola Sturgeon misled the inquiry, Sky News has revealed. This means, by extension, that she misled the Scottish Parliament and may, therefore, have broken the ministerial code. Crucially, however, the committee has stopped short of saying that the First Minister misled it intentionally and broke the ministerial code, and it did so by a majority vote rather than a unanimous one.

[See also: The Alex Salmond affair has shown Scotland at its worst

If James Hamilton, the Irish barrister tasked with leading the independent inquiry into whether Sturgeon broke the ministerial code, does not reach the same conclusion as the committee, then Sturgeon will surely be able to remain in post.

You can see the outlines of the political arguments at this May’s Scottish election now: on the one hand, the Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats will all argue that Sturgeon’s conduct shows she should step down as well the importance of preventing an SNP majority at Holyrood, with Hamilton’s inquiry depicted as a whitewash. On the other, the SNP will argue that the verdict of the committee cannot be taken as seriously as a genuinely independent inquiry, with the vote of the committee presented as a partisan hatchet job.

So in many ways, the committee’s vote is a sideshow: it is not enough on its own to bring Sturgeon’s career to an end, and if Hamilton’s inquiry concludes that the First Minister has broken the ministerial code, then the committee’s deliberations will, in any case, be pointless. The main consequence of this vote will be felt on the campaign trail as Scotland gears up for the devolved election in May.

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[See also: Our Scottish election poll tracker]