Nicola Sturgeon: 'No legal basis' to suspend Alex Salmond
Nicola Sturgeon has said there is "no legal basis" to suspend Alex Salmond from the SNP amid allegations of sexual harassment.
The SNP leader said the complaints were being investigated by the Scottish government - and had not been shared with her party.
Mr Salmond has strenuously denied any claims of harassment or criminality, and criticised the complaints process
He said there had been "sustained leaking" from within the government.
Ms Sturgeon has faced calls from opposition parties to suspend Mr Salmond from the SNP since the Daily Record revealed on Thursday that two female government employees had lodged complaints about his behaviour while he was first minister.
The paper claims to have seen the wording of one of the complaints, which describes an alleged incident at the first minister's official residence Bute House in December 2013.
The two complaints were raised in January and are being investigated by the Scottish government under a new procedure put in place last year in the wake of wider concerns about harassment at Westminster and Holyrood.
In a statement Ms Sturgeon said: "In this case, unlike in some previous cases, the investigation into complaints about Alex Salmond has not been conducted by the SNP and no complaints have been received by the party.
"Also, for legal reasons, the limited information I have about the Scottish government investigation cannot at this stage be shared with the party - and rightly it is the party, not me as leader, that has the power to suspend membership."
Mr Salmond has described the allegations as "patently ridiculous" - and has criticised the complaint handling procedure as "unjust".
He has begun legal action seeking a judicial review of the government's handling of the complaints.
He responded on Twitter to Ms Sturgeon's statement, saying he agreed people should be treated "fairly and equally" but said confidentiality should apply to both complainer and the person facing the complaint.
He continued: "Clearly it has not been maintained in this case but subject to sustained leaking of the most unfair kind
"That helps no-one but harms everyone. It is therefore crucial to find out who in government was responsible."
Mr Salmond said it would now be best to allow the Court of Session to decide if the complaints process was fair.
- Leader of Scottish National Party 1990-2000 and 2004-2014
- First Minister of Scotland 2007 - 2014
- Stood down after Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom
Ms Sturgeon, in her statement, said that while she had no role in the investigation, she agreed the procedure used to investigate such complaints, and that the Scottish government would "defend its position rigorously".
Ms Sturgeon added: "In summary, the party has no legal basis at this time to suspend Alex Salmond's membership.
"Of course, should that situation change, the matter will be reconsidered, as it would be for any member.
"The party's rules apply to all members and no one is above them."
Ms Sturgeon also defended Leslie Evans, the Scottish government's top civil servant, who has been singled out for criticism by Mr Salmond.
"The permanent secretary was absolutely right to ensure that the procedure was applied in this case and she has my full support in having done so," she said.
The complaints against Mr Salmond have also been passed to Police Scotland which says it is assessing the information.
The Scottish Conservatives said Ms Sturgeon's statement left many questions unanswered.
Equalities spokeswoman Annie Wells said: "We are still none the wiser as to the way the assault was treated when it was alleged to have taken place, nor do we know when anyone in the SNP or the Scottish government was informed about the incident."
The Scottish government has said Ms Sturgeon was first made aware of the allegations against Mr Salmond in April this year, and made it clear to him that she would not intervene in the complaints process.
Scottish Labour had earlier called for "full transparency" from the Scottish government.
Parliamentary business manager and women's spokesperson Rhoda Grant said: "It is understood that Alex Salmond met the first minister on multiple occasions to discuss the investigation into allegations of sexual assault into him.
"It would be completely unacceptable if the details of those meetings remained unknown."