Nicola Sturgeon did not breach the ministerial code, Ian Blackford has claimed, as he refused to say if the First Minister should step down if he is proven wrong.
The SNP leader has been accused of misleading parliament over when she knew about allegations of harassment made against her predecessor, Alex Salmond.
Sturgeon told MSPs she first learned of the claims at a meeting in her home with Salmond on April 2, 2018, but it later emerged she had been told four days earlier by his former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein at a meeting in her office, which she claimed to have forgotten.
During a six-hour evidence session before the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints looking into the botched handling of claims made against him on Friday, Salmond repeatedly said, under oath, that Sturgeon broke the ministerial code, but stopped short of saying she should stand down.
The First Minister referred herself for investigation to James Hamilton QC, an independent adviser on the ministerial code.
Despite calls for the First Minister to stand down if she is found to have breached the code, SNP Westminster leader Blackford has thrown his support behind his party leader.
“She’s made it clear on a number of occasions that she does not believe she has broken the ministerial code,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday.
“I believe that to be the case as well, this will be put to bed, and we will be able to move on from it to make sure we are dealing with the Covid crisis in the right way, and we’re having that discussion about what Scotland’s future is.
“I and my party have full confidence in the First Minister leading us to that destination of Scotland becoming an independent country.”
He added: “Yesterday was supposed to be a seminal day in this inquiry where the former first minister was going to bring forward evidence of a conspiracy – by his own admission, there is no evidence of a conspiracy by the First Minister against him.
“I think we’ve had a number of false dawns in this whole spectacle and I do not believe under any circumstances, under any determination, that the First Minister has broken the ministerial code.”
Blackford also refused to say whether Sturgeon should resign if she is found to have broken the rules, describing the question as “hypothetical”.
“Mud has been thrown around by political opponents over the course of the last few months,” he said.
“There is no evidence that has been brought forward that the First Minister has broken the ministerial code or indeed has engaged in any kind of conspiracy.”
When asked specifically about the accusation she misled parliament over when she knew about the allegations, Blackford said there was “no recollection” of the meeting with Geoff Aberdein and she corrected the record when she remembered.
Blackford added: “I think the public will look upon this and wonder what on earth is going on – we’re talking about a minor difference in dates for that first meeting.
“I think anybody that is in senior office… is holding multiple meetings on a daily basis, and to be able to remember in minute detail the exact date of a meeting…
“The fact is there has been no conspiracy, the First Minister has not sought to mislead anybody over this whole saga, and that will be demonstrated next week when the First Minister appears before the committee.”