Salmond and Sturgeon: What is the controversy all about?

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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been cleared of breaking rules during an investigation into her predecessor, Alex Salmond, but she's been criticised in a separate report by MSPs.

An independent report found that Ms Sturgeon did not breach the ministerial code during the Scottish government's botched handling of sexual harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.

However, a separate inquiry by MSPs has described the government's actions as "deeply flawed", and questioned some of Ms Sturgeon's evidence.

Who are Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon?

The pair dominated Scottish politics for more than a decade. They led the campaign for Scotland to become independent from the UK.

Alex Salmond was Scotland's first minister and Scottish National Party leader before Ms Sturgeon, who had been his deputy. She took over after the 2014 independence referendum, which saw Scotland back remaining in the UK by 55% to 45%.

Why did they fall out?

The row began when allegations of sexual harassment - strongly denied - were made against Mr Salmond by two female civil servants in 2018.

The complaints were made after Ms Sturgeon asked for new government policies on sexual harassment to be put in place in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Mr Salmond believed the policy was aimed at him.

The Scottish government eventually admitted it had acted unlawfully. It had to pay Mr Salmond's legal fees of more than £500,000.

Mr Salmond has accused officials close to Ms Sturgeon - including her husband Peter Murrell, the SNP's chief executive - of plotting against him. They all deny these claims.

Then, in January 2019, Mr Salmond was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, including attempted rape.

What happened in Alex Salmond's trial?

Media caption,
March 2020 - Alex Salmond gave his reaction to being cleared

Mr Salmond was cleared of all 13 charges - which were alleged to have happened while he was first minister - after a trial last March.

The nine women who made the allegations included an SNP politician, a party worker and several current and former Scottish government civil servants and officials.

In court, Mr Salmond said the claims made about his alleged conduct were "deliberate fabrications for a political purpose", or "exaggerations".

After being acquitted, he said there was "certain information" he had been unable to talk about during the trial, but which would "see the light of day" in the future.

He has since claimed there was a "deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort" from some in the Scottish government and leading SNP figures to damage him and even have him sent to prison.

Ms Sturgeon has accused him of peddling false conspiracy theories and suggested her predecessor is angry because she "did not collude with him" to make the sexual harassment allegations "go away".

What have the inquiries been looking at?

Following the trial, two separate inquiries began. One was by a committee of MSPs and the other by James Hamilton, Ireland's former director of public prosecutions.

Mr Hamilton's inquiry looked at whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code - which sets out how ministers should behave. It examined whether she had interfered with the civil service investigation into the allegations against Mr Salmond, or misled parliament about what she knew and when.

This report cleared Ms Sturgeon of breaching the ministerial code, but said it was up to parliament to decide whether she had misled them.

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Image caption,
Ms Sturgeon gave eight hours of evidence to the committee of MSPs earlier this month

Separately, the committee of MSPs examined the Scottish government's handling of the initial complaints against Mr Salmond.

Its report said the Scottish government's actions had been "seriously flawed".

MSPs on the committee voted by five to four that Ms Sturgeon misled their inquiry during her marathon evidence session earlier this month.

The committee also said the female civil servants who had made the complaints against Mr Salmond had been badly let down by the government.

What does this mean for Nicola Sturgeon?

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Image caption,
Many Scottish voters believe Ms Sturgeon has handled the coronavirus pandemic well

The row has divided the SNP ahead of the Scottish Parliament election on 6 May, with some prominent MPs and many grassroots activists openly backing Mr Salmond.

Some opinion polls have suggested that the fallout could threaten the SNP's hopes of winning an overall majority in the election - although it remains on course to once again finish as the largest party.