Lawyer clears Scotland’s leader of misleading lawmakers


LONDON — Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon did not mislead lawmakers or act improperly over sexual harassment allegations against her predecessor, a senior lawyer said Monday in his report into a scandal that has roiled Scottish politics.

James Hamilton concluded that Sturgeon did not breach the code of conduct for government ministers. Sturgeon would have faced intense pressure to resign if she was found to have broken the ministerial code.

Sturgeon welcomed the lawyer’s finding and said, “I sought at every stage in this issue to act with integrity and in the public interest.”

Hamilton’s probe centers on the Scottish government’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against Alex Salmond, who served as Scotland’s first minister before Sturgeon took office in 2014.

A second inquiry, by a committee of Scottish lawmakers, is due to publish a report on Tuesday. British media have reported that the committee voted 5-4 in favor of finding that Sturgeon gave an inaccurate account to Scotland’s Edinburgh-based parliament about when she learned of allegations against Salmond.

The political and personal feud has pitted Sturgeon against her former friend and mentor Salmond, and is wracking Scotland’s governing Scottish National Party.

In 2019, Salmond was charged with sexual assault and attempted rape after allegations by nine women who had worked with him as first minister or for the party. He was acquitted by a criminal court in 2020, and claims the allegations made by several women were part of a conspiracy to wreck his political career.

Scotland’s highest civil court ruled in 2019 that the government acted unlawfully in its investigation of the claims against Salmond, and awarded him more than 500,000 pounds ($695,000) in legal expenses.

The political drama in Edinburgh could have major implications for the future of Scotland and the U.K.

Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum was billed at the time as a once-in-a-generation decision. But the Scottish National Party says Brexit has fundamentally changed the situation by dragging Scotland out of the European Union against its will. A majority of Scottish voters backed “remain” in the U.K.’s 2016 EU membership referendum. The U.K. as a whole voted narrowly to leave the bloc.

A Scottish Parliament election is due in May, and the SNP leads in opinion polls. Sturgeon says if she wins a majority, she will push for a new independence referendum and challenge British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the courts, if his government refuses to agree.

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