With her work at stake, Scottish Nicola Sturgeon responds to critics

LONDON – Accused of lying, violating official rules and conspiring against her predecessor, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon fought hard on Wednesday against accusations that have clouded her future and prospects for Scottish independence.

In nearly eight tense hours of testimony before the Scottish Parliament, Sturgeon denied conspiring against Salmond or breaking ministerial rules during a failed internal investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against him.

Opponents had called for Sturgeon’s resignation even before he spoke, but on Wednesday he appealed to lawmakers to trust his account of a puzzling sequence of events. And he rejected what he called the “absurd suggestion that someone acted maliciously or as part of a plot against Alex Salmond.”

Ms Sturgeon also went on the attack, deliberately criticizing her predecessor’s failure to acknowledge last week, in his testimony before the same committee, that he had behaved inappropriately towards women.

“I know from what he told me that his behavior was not always appropriate and yet, throughout six hours of testimony, there was not a single word of regret, reflection or even simple acknowledgment of that,” he said.

Wednesday’s session was the culmination of an extraordinary dispute between Sturgeon and Salmond, his mentor and direct predecessor as Prime Minister of Scotland, a dispute so bitter that it could ruin Sturgeon’s career and push back the cause of Scottish independence to which he both politicians dedicated their lives.

Salmond discovered Sturgeon’s talents as a political student and appointed her as his deputy in 2004, a position in which she held the position for a decade before taking over the top job when her boss resigned after Scots voted against independence in a 2014 referendum.

But the rift between the two most important figures in Scottish politics, with their quasi-Shakespearean claims of conspiracy and betrayal, comes just as prospects for Scottish independence have begun to shine once again due to Brexit, which is highly unpopular in Scotland. .

The dispute revolves around an internal investigation in 2018 of two complaints against Mr. Salmond dating back to 2013. Mr. Salmond argued that the investigation process was flawed, took the Scottish government to court and won, and taxpayers Scots paid his legal fees of over £ 500,000. When the police subsequently took up a criminal case against him, Mr. Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges, including one of attempted rape.

Now determined to save his reputation, Salmond argues that those close to Sturgeon had conspired against him to prevent his return to politics after he lost his seat in the British Parliament in 2017, and were even willing to see him imprisoned. Last week he also said that Scotland’s political leadership and institutions had failed under his successor, a claim that appeared to undermine the case for independence.

But more dangerous for Ms Sturgeon are allegations that she misled the Scottish Parliament about what she knew and when, and how she handled complaints of sexual harassment.

Sturgeon faces two questions and, if it is clearly judged that he lied, he would be expected to resign under the nation’s strict ministerial rules. Even if he survives, as many believe he will, the timing is dire, ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections in May.

In that vote, Sturgeon hopes to make a profit for his party that he can use to justify holding a second referendum on Scottish independence.

But instead of campaigning, Sturgeon fought Wednesday to save his job with a smooth performance, albeit without satisfying his critics.

In occasionally pointed exchanges, Ms. Sturgeon presented her actions as those of a politician torn between personal loyalty to her mentor and a stronger determination not to tolerate sexual harassment.

“As prime minister, I refused to follow the old pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and connections to get what he wants,” she said.

Regarding the claims against her, Ms Sturgeon said that she had “searched my soul for all this many, many, times,” but added that “in one of the most hateful personal and political situations I have ever faced, I believe that I acted appropriately and appropriately and generally made the best judgments I could. “

Ms. Sturgeon acknowledged the errors in the 2018 investigation and apologized to the two complainants.

But she has made mistakes since then. Ms Sturgeon initially said that she first heard about the allegations against Salmond on April 2, 2018, during a meeting with him at his home, but later admitted that her former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, had warned her earlier. , March 29.

On Wednesday, Sturgeon said he had only gained a vague understanding of what was at stake during the March 29 meeting, and that learning about the allegations in detail on April 2 was “a moment in my life that I will never forget.”

He also denied claims that he offered to mediate between his predecessor, a man he said he had revered since the age of 20, and the women who complained against him.

And Ms. Sturgeon rejected the allegations that the names of the accusers were given to Mr. Salmond by government officials, something that would have been a serious violation of the rules.

Instead, she argued that Mr. Salmond knew the identity of one of the women because he had apologized to her and found out the other from his own investigation.

She also rejected a claim that, when Mr. Salmond took the government to court, she had continued to fight a lost case against the advice of attorneys. Ms Sturgeon argued that the legal advice was ambivalent enough to justify her decision to continue fighting Salmond in court for several weeks before the Scottish government relented.

After all that was said and done, there was nothing left for Ms. Sturgeon to do or say except await the verdict of the two investigations that will likely determine her fate.

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