A Scottish parliamentary committee has concluded that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament.
Sky News understands that Holyrood’s harassment committee has reached the conclusion by a majority vote ahead of the publication of its final report.
Members have decided that Ms Sturgeon misled the committee itself and, as such, misled parliament and potentially breached the ministerial code of conduct.
It will significantly increase pressure on Ms Sturgeon to step down. Her opponents have repeatedly levelled the accusation that, in misleading parliament, she breached the ministerial code of conduct.
It dictates that any minister found to knowingly be in breach should offer their resignation.
Sky News understands that the word “knowingly” was not included in the text agreed by the committee.
Its members decided by a majority that it was misled by evidence submitted to them by the first minister.
Ms Sturgeon appeared before them earlier this month to give oral evidence and, before that, made a written submission in which she insisted she had not offered to intervene in a Scottish government investigation into harassment complaints made against her predecessor, Alex Salmond.
However, Mr Salmond insisted that she had made such an offer during a meeting at her house on 2 April 2018.
Mr Salmond’s account was confirmed by Duncan Hamilton QC, his legal adviser, who was present at the meeting and wrote to the committee that Ms Sturgeon had said: “If it comes to it, I will intervene.”
Speaking to Sky News last night, Ms Sturgeon said: “I stand by all of the evidence I gave to the committee, all eight hours’ worth of evidence.
“What’s been clear is that opposition members of this committee made their minds up about me before I muttered a single word of evidence, their public comments have made that clear.
“So this leak from the committee – very partisan leak – tonight before they’ve finalised the report is not that surprising.”
The committee’s finding, passed by a majority, reads:
“The committee notes there is a fundamental contradiction in the evidence in relation to whether, at the meeting on the 2 April 2018, the first minister did or did not agree to intervene.
“Taking account of the competing versions of the event, the committee believes that she did in fact leave Alex Salmond with the impression that she would, if necessary, intervene.
“This is corroborated by Duncan Hamilton, who was also at the meeting. Her written evidence is, therefore, an inaccurate account of what happened and she has misled the committee on this matter.
“This is a potential breach of the ministerial code under the terms of section 1.3 (c).”
Holyrood’s harassment committee, comprising of four SNP MSPs and five members of the opposition, is due to publish its findings, in full, early next week.
Their inquiry has been looking into the Scottish government’s mishandling of a 2018 investigation of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.
He challenged its legality and a court ruled that it was “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”. Mr Salmond was subsequently acquitted of sexual assault charges at a criminal trial in March 2020.
The remit of the Holyrood committee has been to consider and report on the actions of the first minister, Scottish government officials, and special advisers.
It has examined the development of the government’s policy regarding harassment, events surrounding Mr Salmond’s judicial review and the handling of complaints, as well as matters concerning the ministerial code.
Ms Sturgeon is facing a separate inquiry into whether she breached the ministerial code.
James Hamilton, Ireland’s former director of public prosecutions, is due to publish the findings of his investigation in the coming days.
Mr Hamilton is an independent adviser to the Scottish government on the code and has been conducting enquiries following Ms Sturgeon’s self-referral amid questions surrounding what she knew, and when.