MSPs call on Swinney to expand Sturgeon code breach probe

Cross-party group want deputy first minister to widen remit of independent inquiry to include Salmond claims.

Alex Salmond has accused Nicola Sturgeon of 'breaching the ministerial code'. Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images / Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Alex Salmond has accused Nicola Sturgeon of 'breaching the ministerial code'.

A cross-party group of MSPs has called on Scotland’s Deputy First Minister to formally extend the inquiry into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code.

They want John Swinney to widen the remit of the independent inquiry to include claims by Alex Salmond that the First Minister broke the code by allegedly misleading parliament over when she knew of sexual harassment claims against him.

Salmond has also called for the investigation to be widened.

Sturgeon initially told Holyrood she first heard of complaints of sexual misconduct against her predecessor when they met at her home on April 2, 2018.

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It later emerged she had an informal meeting with Salmond’s chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, in her Holyrood office four days earlier.

The SNP leader told a Scottish Parliament committee examining the Scottish Government’s botched handling of sexual harassment allegations against Salmond she “forgot” about the encounter.

A spokesman for Sturgeon said she denies Salmond’s claims and stands by her previous comments on the issue.

Now, four members of the committee – Labour’s Jackie Baillie, Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton and Conservatives Margaret Mitchell and Murdo Fraser – have written to Swinney calling for him to formally extend the remit of independent inquiry into whether or not the First Minister breached the ministerial code.

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They have also written to James Hamilton QC, who is conducting the inquiry, asking him to clarify if the inquiry will be expanded as requested.

Both letters state: “If corroborated, Mr Salmond’s evidence could prove that the First Minister knowingly misled Parliament both orally and in writing on several occasions about when she first knew that the government was investigating complaints against the former first minister and of her actions around the same.

“Equally, Mr Salmond may be fabricating his assertions in an effort to damage Ms Sturgeon. In any case these two versions of events cannot both be true and we believe it to be of paramount importance to the national interest that the facts of the matter are established.”

The letters say widening the investigation to include examination of whether Sturgeon broke the section of the code dealing with knowingly misleading parliament is “vital”.

The MSPs tell Swinney: “When asked previously, both yourself and the First Minister have repeatedly suggested that James Hamilton QC is at liberty to expand the remit of his inquiry should the evidence require it.

“However, we understand that as he engaged in a quasi-judicial process, he cannot indulge in mission creep and that the remit may only be formally expanded by an official directive from your government.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Deputy First Minister already confirmed to Parliament in November, in response to a parliamentary question from one of the authors of this letter, that the James Hamilton inquiry could look at any aspect of a potential breach of the ministerial code. We will not prejudge that process.

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“The First Minister stands by her written evidence to the Parliament and looks forward to answering questions when she appears later this month.”

Salmond said evidence he submitted to Mr Hamilton has also been given to the committee.

He added: “It is a matter for Mr Hamilton and committee members what they do with my evidence but I stand by the contents of the document and I am prepared to do so under oath in front of the committee.”

Sturgeon: IndyRef2 should be held in term of next parliament

SNP leader says no justification for Boris Johnson to block vote if there is a 'simple democratic majority' for independence.

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SNP: Nicola Sturgeon says independence referendum should be held in lifetime of next parliament.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says the “people of Scotland should decide Scotland’s future” through an independence referendum in the next term of the Scottish Parliament.

She said there would be “no democratic, electoral, or moral justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson or anyone else to block the right of people in Scotland to decide their own future” if there is a “simple, democratic majority in the Scottish Parliament for an independence referendum”.

Speaking at the launch of the SNP’s election manifesto on Thursday, Sturgeon said: “I do not propose holding an independence referendum while we are still grappling with the Covid crisis.

“That would be a dereliction of my duty as First Minister to dedicate all of my energies to leading us through the crisis.

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“But it would also be a dereliction of my duty as First Minister – my duty to this and future generations – to let Westminster take Scotland so far in the wrong direction that we no longer have the option to change course.

“So it is my judgment that the people of Scotland should decide Scotland’s future through an independence referendum in the next term of parliament.”

“It should take place only when the crisis has passed, but in time then to equip our parliament with the full powers it needs to drive our long-term recovery.

“But whether or not Scotland becomes independent won’t be decided by me or by the SNP or even by the Scottish Parliament.

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“It will happen only when a majority of people who live here in Scotland are persuaded to vote for it.”

As well as addressing Scotland’s constitutional future, Sturgeon also made a raft of domestic policy pledges that she said her party would implement if they are re-elected at next month’s election.

Companies will be provided funding to pilot a four-day working week in a bid to help people achieve a better work-life balance following the coronavirus pandemic.

She also outlined plans to freeze rates of income tax for the next five years, move towards a minimum income guarantee, and investment of more than £33bn in infrastructure in the next five years.

Sturgeon said: “Before the pandemic struck, many people were already worried about work-life balance.

“We want to do more to support people to achieve a better balance and help businesses employ as many people as possible.

“As part of that, we will establish a £10m fund to support willing companies to explore and pilot the benefits of a four-day working week.

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“And to provide stability to the economy and to household budgets during this period of recovery, I can confirm our intention is to freeze the rates of income tax throughout the next parliament.”

The First Minister also said her government would use the powers available to ensure a minimum income standard.

She added: “This will lay the foundation for the introduction of a citizens’ basic income should Scotland choose to become independent and gain the tax and social security powers that are necessary to make that a reality.

“And in the meantime, it will help tackle poverty and inequality and give people dignity and opportunity.”

On health, the SNP leader said she would increase health spending by £2.5bn, an increase of at least 20%, and social care funding by more than £800m over the next parliamentary term.

She said: “This will deliver an additional £2.5bn for frontline health services – almost double what an inflation-only increase would amount to.

“Of course we cannot remobilise the NHS without the extraordinary commitment of all those who work in it.

“We will also increase public investment in social care by 25% over the course of the parliament, delivering over £800m of additional support.

“And because we believe that social care, just like health care, should be provided on a truly universal basis, free at the point of use, we will remove charges for non-residential care.

“Fresh thinking is required as we recover our health and care services and secure them for the future.”

She added that NHS staff will receive the “biggest single NHS pay increase in the history of devolution”.

The SNP also vowed to set up fast-track cancer diagnostic centres in every health board area and abolish NHS dentistry charges if re-elected.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “We are still waiting on the SNP delivering promises they made in 2007. They have a one-track mind for independence that prevents them getting anything else done.”

He said that on issues such as “class sizes, council tax, superfast broadband, delayed discharge” it had been “promise after promise broken” by the SNP, adding: “It will be even worse if the SNP get a majority.”

Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson hit out at the “giveaways that the SNP have been springing out of hats” during the election campaign.

She told Radio Forth: “People aren’t daft, they wonder ‘you’ve been in government for 14 years, why are you telling us now you’ve not given enough to the NHS’.

“How cynical is this to wheel it out three weeks before an election, but not to have done the hard yards when you have been in government for 14 years.”

Man’s lavish lifestyle funded by ‘industrial scale dishonesty’

A judge said the was ‘there was no boundary of dishonesty’ Stephen Day was not prepared to cross.

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Fraudulent accountant Stephen Day enjoyed luxury lifestyle at 45-acre Scottish estate.

An accountant who committed “industrial scale dishonesty” to fund an extravagant lifestyle has been jailed for 11 years and five months.

Stephen Day, 51, plundered more than £1 million from several companies, defrauded three NHS organisations he secretly worked for at the same time, and targeted a female friend in a romance fraud despite being in separate relationships with two men.

Day purchased several properties in Scotland, including a 45-acre estate which had its own salmon fishing area on the River Annan, and is it thought another development in South Africa to let out as a holiday rental, according to investigating detectives.

The judge who sentenced him at Leeds Crown Court on Thursday told him “there was no boundary of dishonesty that you were not prepared to cross” as he tried to evade detection at various points by falsely claiming he had cancer.

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Day’s ill-gotten gains funded a taste for luxury holidays, expensive furniture, car accessories and his love interests, neither of whom knew of the other, the court heard.

Day, of Quiech Mill, Blairgowrie, who previously lived in Aberford, Leeds, used his status to be appointed as director, financial director or company secretary of four organisations including a care home provider for vulnerable people and the management company of the block of flats where he lived in Manchester city centre.

Once in place he sought to empty their bank accounts into his own and hide the trail with false ledger accounts and documents.

After he took over the accounts at Asia House in Manchester, where he owned a flat, he faked a bank mandate which give him unfettered access to money belonging to members of the residents’ association.

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Another victim was Gloucester-based Avida Care, where he became the financial director and took on the responsibility for payroll and support services. When he failed to attend meetings and provide financial information he lied that his mother had died and he had been diagnosed with cancer.

Day also admitted fraud by misrepresentation as he failed to disclose to three NHS trusts that he was working full-time for them all at the same time on a combined daily £2,000 salary, on top of his other interests.

The defendant resorted to more lies as he struggled to meet all his commitments by again claiming he had cancer, had been involved in car crashes and was mourning the loss of his father, who had actually died nine years earlier.

His deception cost Merseyside Commissioning Support Unit, South East Staffordshire and Seisdon Peninsula Clinical Commissioning Group and Cheshire and Wirral Partnership Trust a total of about £88,000.

Judge Simon Batiste said his most cynical fraud was committed on a female friend who he had met again many years later through a professional networking site.

Day said he had been widowed two years earlier and went on to groom her as he concocted reasons to borrow more than £4,500 from her as his financial dealings caught up with him.

The judge said: “There was no boundary of dishonesty that you were not prepared to cross. The consequences have been enormous both financially and in other respects, including businesses losing viability and being wound up, people losing their jobs, reputational damage, loss of credit rating and people being unable to sell their homes.

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“In short you have caused misery, hardship and anxiety to many.

“This was industrial scale dishonesty purely to fulfil your own greed.”

Day, who pleaded guilty to 12 counts of fraud and theft totalling nearly £1.4 million between 2012 and 2015, was also disqualified from being a director for nine years.

Following sentencing, detective sergeant Stephen Donohue, from Greater Manchester Police’s specialist fraud investigation team, said: “Although the investigation has now closed, our work does not stop here and we will now look at a proceeds of crime hearing to try and recoup some of the funds he stole, to recompense his numerous victims.”


Loch Lomond ‘ready for visitors’ as travel restrictions ease

From Friday, Scots will be able to leave their local authority area for socialising, recreation or exercise.

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Staff at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park are ready to welcome visitors back on Friday as Scotland’s travel restrictions ease.

From April 16, Scots will be able to leave their local authority area for socialising, recreation or exercise, though travel between the mainland and some islands will not be permitted.

Six adults from up to six households will also be able to meet up outdoors.

The First Minister announced the changes at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Tuesday.

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Gordon Watson, chief executive of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, told STV News that extra rangers and litter staff will be out in force.

He said: “This weekend we’ll have all of our staff out. Our seasonal staff are all trained, inducted and ready to welcome people to [the national park].

“So we will have extra rangers on the ground [and] extra litter staff to make sure people have a really good experience when they take their first day trip back out to the national park.”

Mr Watson advised all those heading out to plan ahead.

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He added: “We know people are desperate to get out after a long winter lockdown, but things aren’t quite the same just yet.

“So if you do come out, businesses won’t be open and not all facilities will be open, so we ask people to plan ahead.

“We expect car parks to be busy, so please check our website to see what car parks have capacity.

“And if they are full, please look at another location and don’t park on road verges.”


‘Emotional moment’: Sturgeon receives first dose of vaccine

The SNP leader, who is 50-years-old, urged others to get the vaccine when they are offered it.

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Nicola Sturgeon has described receiving her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine as “an emotional moment”.

The SNP leader thanked staff at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow for putting her at ease as she received the AstraZeneca jag on Thursday afternoon.

Sturgeon, who is 50-years-old, urged others to get the vaccine when they are offered it.

She said: “Just had my first dose of vaccine – AstraZeneca for anyone wondering. It truly is an emotional moment. Thanks to the wonderful vaccinator who put me so much at ease, and to teams across the country.

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“Please get vaccinated as soon as you are able. It really will help us back to normal.”

Professor Linda Bauld also received her first dose of the vaccine.

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, also received her jag on Thursday afternoon.

Police report ‘racism and assault’ at Rangers vs Slavia game

A report has been sent to the Procurator Fiscal over two incidents which are alleged to have taken place at Ibrox on March 18.

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Football: The incidents are alleged to have taken place during a Rangers vs Slavia Prague match.

Police Scotland has submitted a report to the Crown Office following an investigation into alleged racist abuse and an assault at the Rangers vs Slavia Prague match at Ibrox.

The Glasgow side’s Glen Kamara accused Slavia’s Ondrej Kudela of using a racial slur against him during the game on March 18.

The Czech player strongly denied the allegation and Slavia said it submitted a criminal complaint to Police Scotland alleging an attack on Kudela in the tunnels at Ibrox following the match.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “A report has been sent to the Procurator Fiscal following enquiries into alleged racial abuse and a reported assault at the match between Rangers and Slavia Prague at Ibrox on Thursday, March 18, 2021.”

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A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “The Procurator Fiscal has received reports concerning a 25-year-old male and a 34 year-old-male and incidents said to have occurred on March 18, 2021, in Glasgow.

“The reports remain under the consideration of the Procurator Fiscal.”


Raw waste discharged into river used as ‘open sewer’

West Lothian councillors have called for an action plan from Scottish Water to clean up the River Almond.

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Local authority councillors have called for an action plan from Scottish Water to clean up the River Almond.

Raw sewage was discharged into a West Lothian river over 500 times in a year, it has been revealed.

Local authority councillors have called for an action plan from Scottish Water to clean up the River Almond.

Councillor Diane Calder, the SNP group’s environment spokesperson, said: “Thanks to local campaigners for their persistence in obtaining these figures. This is a shocking failure of all agencies to adequately treat waste. In effect our river is being used as an open sewer.”

The group of councillors met with a recently formed River Almond Action Group (RAAG) last month.

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Since then, the SNP group has written to Scottish Water which retains responsibility for water standards although Veolia manages the Waste Water Treatment Works on its behalf.

During and after even moderate rainfall, the current waste water works are simply unable to cope – when this happens raw sewage is discharged straight into the River Almond.

West Lothian councillors said there had been over 500 such incidents in 2019.

This waste is visible and councillors say it detracts from the enjoyment people get by using the local country park.

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Councillor Moira Shemilt said: “During lockdown, when movement around the country has been restricted, wild water swimming has become very popular in West Lothian. This is not just of benefit physically but has also been shown to be therapeutic for mental health. We are delighted to hear that the Forth Rivers Trust has applied to SEPA for bathing water status for parts of the River Almond. Local people should be able to swim here in our country park.”

And group leader Councillor Janet Campbell said: “Scottish Water state on their own website that ‘pollution can cause a risk to human health, affect biodiversity, amenity value and has the potential to kill fish and other aquatic life’, yet have allowed this level of pollution to happen on a regular basis in one of the primary locations in West Lothian for local families to enjoy.

“This is quite simply not good enough – Scottish Water must now produce a plan for action, showing how they and their partners will progress the cleaning up of our river”

A Scottish Water spokeswoman said: “We are listening to concerns of the community and are committed to doing all we can to protect the River Almond.

“It is important to highlight the waste water network and treatment works are operated under strict regulatory policy and regulated licences.

“Along with Veolia, we are already engaged with local stakeholders and community groups to help protect the River Almond from pollution and will continue to liaise with them and the wider community on our operations, assets and future plans for the area.

“Scottish Water strives to protect the environment whilst providing an essential service to our many customers.  We continue to campaign and encourage people to ensure only the three Ps  – pee, poo and (toilet) paper  – are flushed down toilets and fats, oil and grease are not poured down sinks to stop blockages and flooding.”

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Story by local democracy reported Stuart Sommerville

Actor charged with sexual assault ‘fears for his career’

Kevin Guthrie denies sexually assaulting actress at property in the West End of Glasgow in 2017.

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Kevin Guthrie appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

Scottish actor Kevin Guthrie told a jury that he fears for his career after being accused of sexually assaulting an actress.

Guthrie denied attacking the 29-year-old as he gave evidence at his trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Thursday.

The 33-year-old instead insisted he had “helped” the woman, who appeared unwell at the flat of Still Game star Scott Reid.

Guthrie is accused of sexual assault at the property in Kelvindale in the city’s West End on September 30 or October 1, 2017.

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Jurors heard how the woman had been due to meet Guthrie and Reid at a bar on the night of the alleged attack. She knew both from drama school.

But Reid received a call from a taxi driver to collect her as she appeared ill.

He and Guthrie went on to help the woman into the flat and put her on a bed.

The trial heard how Reid called NHS 24 leaving Guthrie in the room “to make sure she was okay”.

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The woman alleges it was there she was attacked by Guthrie.

Guthrie refuted the accusations, agreeing with his QC Gordon Jackson that it had instead been a “panic situation” due to the woman’s condition.

He told the trial there was a time he was alone with her.

The actor said: “She looked to be hanging over the bed to be sick into a bag or basin. 

“She was in bed in such a way I was concerned she would fall. 

“I went to reassure her and helped her back into bed so she was safe and comfortable. 

“As I heard sounds of wrenching, I didn’t want her vomiting on her back so I put her in the recovery position.”

Mr Jackson asked about consequences of sexual assault allegations on his career.

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He said: “My own impression is it can be fatal. For most employers at this point in time it would render you unemployable.”

The QC then suggested if Guthrie’s career could die, and he said: “Yes.”

Mr Jackson said: “She said you did it, are you clear you did not?” 

Guthrie replied: “I categorically did not do this, I did not carry out the alleged assaults.”

Jurors were told by a forensic scientist that Guthrie’s DNA was found on the inside of the woman’s underwear.

Prosecutor Harry Findlay asked Guthrie to explain why this was.

He said: “I can’t for the life of me explain in any rational sense how that happened.

“It’s my understanding that having had contact with her hands or her torso or body, she would have moved during the night and there would have been secondary transfer of DNA.”

The trial continues before Sheriff Tom Hughes.


Coronavirus: One new death and 237 cases reported overnight

More than 10,000 deaths have been registered in Scotland where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

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Covid-19: 237 new cases in Scotland.

One further person has died from coronavirus in Scotland as cases grew by another 237 overnight.

More than 10,000 deaths have been registered where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

A total of 222,897 people have tested positive in Scotland since the start of the pandemic.

Of 23,580 new tests that reported results on Wednesday – 1.2% of these were positive.

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According to NHS boards across Scotland, 115 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19. Out of those, 16 patients are in intensive care.

The Scottish Government also confirmed that 2,708,691 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. A total of 661,975 people have received their second dose.


Rennie sets out investment plan with focus on wind farm jobs

The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader said local industry must be able to compete for big manufacturing jobs.

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Willie Rennie visited Fife College to set out plans for investment in green technology and renewables.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has announced a series of green investment proposals, saying Scottish workers must be given the best chance to manufacture offshore wind turbines.

Speaking during a visit to Fife College, Rennie called for a Scotland-wide effort to scale-up capacity in order to compete for jobs and avoid Scottish firms missing out on work against foreign competitors.

He said: “Alex Salmond promised we would be the Saudi Arabia of renewables. The SNP make big announcements but don’t back them up. The workers at BiFab know that better than anyone.

“They were told by the Scottish Government that the takeover it had brokered was ‘a very good day’ and that jobs were safe, only to be handed P45s just 21 days later. The yards then only had capacity to bid for four of the 114 offshore turbines right on its doorstep. The work all sailed off to the Middle East and China.

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Rennie visited Fife College to discuss plans for investment in green technology and renewables.
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“If somebody is spending £1.4bn on wind turbines within eyesight of the Scottish shoreline, then Scottish industry must be in a position to win a contract for more than just the photography.”

Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab) missed out on work as part of the manufacturing process for new offshore wind farms last year.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats said the party would help give the areas of the country invested in fossil fuels the support needed to transition to new industries.

The plans include a proposal to establish a successor to the Just Transition Commission, with a membership that includes affected workers and communities, trade unions and environmental interests.

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The commission started work in 2019 and was set up to advise the Scottish Government on establishing a zero-carbon economy.

Rennie said: “Scottish Liberal Democrats will scale-up and deliver jobs at every stage of the process and use Scotland’s immense technical, scientific and engineering skills to tackle the climate emergency. It’s a task that can only be done with a government that will put recovery first.”

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