Sturgeon tells Salmond to ‘provide evidence’ for claims

First Minister has been accused by her predecessor of breaching the ministerial ethics code.

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Nicola Sturgeon says she doesn’t believe her predecessor Alex Salmond can show evidence of a conspiracy against him because his claims are “not true”.

Salmond is accusing the First Minister of breaching the ministerial code and misleading the Scottish Parliament.

A Holyrood committee is probing the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment allegations against him – which saw Salmond win a £512,000 payout following a case at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Salmond claims “parliament has been repeatedly misled on a number of occasions” about a meeting he had with Sturgeon at her home on April 2, 2018.

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But the current First Minister told STV News that her predecessor had tabled no evidence for that or his other claims.

Sturgeon said: “He (Salmond) has made claims, or he appears to be making claims or suggestions there was some kind of conspiracy against him or concerted campaign against him, there is not a shred of evidence about that, so this is the opportunity for him to replace insinuation and assertion with evidence.”

“I don’t believe he can because I know what he is saying is not true but the burden of proof is on him. If he can’t provide that evidence he should stop making these claims about people because they’re not fair and deeply distressing.

A key Holyrood body ruled last week that a submission from Salmond – in which he alleges Sturgeon broke the ministerial code – could be published.

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The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) concluded “on balance” that it would be “possible” for the document to be published.

As a result, Salmond is now scheduled to give evidence on Wednesday to the Holyrood committee, with Sturgeon expected to have her say a week later.

A separate investigation is looking specifically at a potential breach of the ministerial ethics code by Sturgeon, who has repeatedly denied misleading parliament.

A breach would normally expect a minister to offer their resignation.

The First Minister said on Monday: “I haven’t breached the ministerial code but that’s a matter for the independent adviser on the code to determine and I will robustly refute any suggestions that I have done so, and I am not going to get ahead of that and start to talk in a hypothetical sense.

“In terms of the committee inquiry, I am actually quite relieved it is getting to this stage, it’s been a long time coming. My own appearance before it I think has been postponed four or five times, so next week hopefully I get the opportunity to address all of the claims that have been made about me and subject myself to legitimate scrutiny.

“The Scottish Government, of course, made a mistake in this. But this week it’s an opportunity for Alex Salmond – I hope he will come to the committee on Wednesday.”

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“The people he is accusing of this are not just women who brought forward complaints – first and foremost – but also people who have given years, sometimes decades, of public service to Alex Salmond.

“It’s not fair to make these claims unless he has the hard evidence to back them up, which I don’t believe he does.”

One of the key issues under scrutiny by the committee is when Sturgeon first learned of the complaints against Salmond.

Sturgeon, who took over as First Minister and SNP leader in late 2014, initially told Holyrood she first heard of complaints of sexual misconduct against her predecessor at a meeting with him in her home on April 2, 2018.

But in Salmond’s subsequent criminal trial, it was revealed Sturgeon had been made aware of the allegations in an informal meeting with his former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein on March 29 that year – four days earlier – with Sturgeon later telling the inquiry she “forgot” about the encounter.

Sturgeon said: “Alex Salmond came to my home on the 2nd of April, 2018. He told me in quite gory detail what he was accused of – perhaps even more notably he gave me an account of one of those incidents.

“Now, an issue has been raised about a meeting I had with his former chief of staff three days before that.

“I will set out to the committee my recollection of that meeting but I stand by what I said in parliament. That meeting has not had the significance in my mind at any point that it clearly has with others but I’ve set out my recollection of that.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Sturgeon “sets up a straw man every time she is asked about what she knew and when of sexual misconduct claims involving Alex Salmond”. 

He said: “This isn’t about a conspiracy, as she and other SNP figures have repeatedly suggested, at every opportunity they get. 

“It’s about whether the First Minister mislead the Scottish Parliament and broke the Ministerial Code. 

“Nicola Sturgeon is not only asking the public to believe that she forgot about a secret meeting where she apparently learned for the first time of sexual harassment complaints against her friend of 30 years, she’s now insisting that the meeting ‘never held any significance’ to her. 

“If that really was the moment she found out, then it’s absurd to try and claim that it was an insignificant meeting. 

“The ruling party of government failed women and lost more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money. That’s what this inquiry is about. Not the SNP civil war or any conspiracy theory.”

Analysis: ‘A pre-emptive strike’

By STV political editor Colin Mackay

This is a pre-emptive strike against her predecessor.

She expects some serious allegations in Alex Salmond’s written evidence and when he faces MSPs on Wednesday. She says there is not a shred of evidence that there was a conspiracy against him.

We are still waiting on his written evidence being published – the committee members expect that today, they expected it hours ago.

If that is published Alex Salmond will have his day in Parliament on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Kevin Scott

Nicola Sturgeon to give evidence at Salmond inquiry

The First Minister is set to give evidence as the inquiry into complaints against her predecessor continues.

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Sturgeon: Set to give evidence at Salmond inquiry.

Nicola Sturgeon will face questions from MSPs as she appears at the Alex Salmond inquiry.

The First Minister is set to give evidence on Wednesday morning as the inquiry into complaints against her predecessor continues at Holyrood.

On Tuesday Sturgeon was facing calls to resign after fresh questions were raised about her role in the affair.

The calls from the Scottish Conservatives came after the Holyrood government published legal advice related to its botched investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment.

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On Wednesday Sturgeon will be called to answer questions from investigators at around 9am with the session expected to last several hours.

The line of questioning is expected to focus on the timeframe of her knowledge regarding the sexual harassment allegations.

Salmond has previously accused Sturgeon of breaching the ministerial code and misleading the Scottish Parliament, accusations which the First Minister has repeatedly denied.


What we know about the Alex Salmond Holyrood inquiry

Nicola Sturgeon is due to appear before the committee on Wednesday following Alex Salmond's appearance last week.

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Inquiry: Former first minister Alex Salmond.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will appear before the Holyrood inquiry into her government’s unlawful investigation of Alex Salmond on Wednesday.

She has said she is looking forward to challenging allegations made against her.

Why was the committee established?

The Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints was set up to look into the Scottish Government investigation of the allegations against the former first minister.

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MSPs have so far taken evidence from civil servants, including repeated sessions from permanent secretary Leslie Evans, trade unions and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – who is Sturgeon’s husband – and Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC.

Salmond himself gave evidence to the inquiry on Friday, February 26, when he claimed the Scottish Government hoped his criminal trial would “ride to the rescue” and prevent its unlawful investigation of him suffering a “cataclysmic” civil court defeat.

Why did Salmond take legal action?

The former first minister did not feel his treatment by the Scottish Government was fair.

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It was later found that the lead investigator of the complaints had prior contact with some of the female complainers, with Judge Lord Pentland saying the investigation was “tainted with apparent bias”.

How has the inquiry gone so far?

The committee has repeatedly voiced frustration with how slow the handing over of evidence has been from a number of parties.

The Scottish Government was accused of obstruction last year, with the committee saying it was “completely frustrated” with the lack of evidence.

Both the committee and the Scottish Government were at loggerheads over legal advice provided as part of the judicial review process.

MSPs wanted to know when the Scottish Government was advised it would likely lose the challenge raised by Salmond, but ministers said handing over the advice would breach the ministerial code.

On two occasions, MSPs voted for the evidence to be released, with a deal eventually being struck in December to disclose the advice only to MSPs on the committee.

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Didn’t Salmond face trial on sexual misconduct charges?

Yes. The former first minister was cleared of 13 charges at the High Court in Edinburgh in March last year, after being arrested in January 2019.

What were the issues with Salmond’s evidence?

Salmond and the committee have been wrangling in recent weeks over evidence published by the inquiry.

Earlier this month the former first minister said he would not appear, after the committee decided not to publish his submission to a separate investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code, over fears it may identify some of the complainers in Salmond’s criminal trial last year.

However, an alteration made to a court order by Judge Lady Dorrian meant the evidence could potentially be made public.

While the committee voted against publication, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) made the decision to publish anyway.

The evidence, which was released last Monday evening, was online for less than 24 hours before the Crown Office raised concerns with Holyrood about it, asking for redactions to be made.

In his submission, the former first minister accused some in the Scottish Government and SNP of a “malicious and concerted attempt to damage my reputation and remove me from public life in Scotland”.

Sturgeon said her predecessor did not have “a shred of evidence” to support his claims.

Last Tuesday the submission was re-released, with a number of paragraphs relating to the set-up of a meeting between Salmond and his successor redacted.

Is the committee inquiry the only investigation into the matter?

No. Sturgeon is currently under investigation by James Hamilton QC, to establish if she breached the ministerial code.

Sturgeon referred herself after being accused of misleading parliament over when she knew of the complaints against Salmond.

She previously said she had been told about the allegations by Salmond himself during a meeting in her home on April 2, 2018.

However, it was later found that Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, had met the First Minister in her Holyrood office four days prior to that, where she was told of the complaints.

Did the Scottish Government publish legal advice it received over the Salmond case?

Deputy first minister John Swinney agreed to hand over legal advice under threat of a no-confidence vote from opposition parties, and the advice was published on Tuesday evening.

Documents showed that lawyers warned the Scottish Government in September 2018 that there “is a real risk that the court may be persuaded by the petitioner’s case in respect of the ground of challenge based on ‘procedural unfairness’”.

On December 6, 2018 legal advisers told ministers that in their view the “least worst option” would be to concede the petition.

Following publication of the legal advice, the Scottish Conservatives called on Sturgeon to resign and said they would submit a vote of no confidence in her.

A spokesman for the First Minister said on Tuesday evening that to call a vote of no confidence in the middle of a pandemic, before hearing a single word of the First Minister’s evidence, is “utterly irresponsible”.


Key dates in the Salmond saga as Sturgeon to appear at inquiry

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will give evidence to the Holyrood committee later on Wednesday.

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Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond.

Nicola Sturgeon is due to give evidence to the Holyrood committee examining the Scottish Government’s unlawful investigation of sexual harassment allegations made against Alex Salmond.

The inquiry was established after Scotland’s former first minister successfully challenged the government’s apparently biased investigation, resulting in a £512,250 payout.

Here are the key dates as the saga has unfolded:

October 31, 2017

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon orders a review of the Scottish Government’s “policies and processes for addressing inappropriate conduct” in the wake of the MeToo movement.

The review is led by the government’s most senior civil servant, permanent secretary Leslie Evans.

November 4

Sturgeon is informed about an inquiry by Sky News relating to Salmond’s alleged behaviour towards female staff at Edinburgh Airport.

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December 20

Sturgeon approves the “Handling of Harassment Complaints Involving Current or Former Ministers” procedure.

January, 2018

Two female staff members make formal complaints to the Scottish Government about Salmond’s conduct in December 2013 when he was first minister.

An internal investigation is established and investigating officer Judith Mackinnon is appointed.

March 7

The permanent secretary tells Salmond about the investigation.

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March 29

Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, meets Sturgeon at Holyrood and discusses the allegations.

In her written evidence to the committee in 2020, Sturgeon says she forgot about this meeting until “late January/early February” 2019.

April 2

Salmond meets Sturgeon at her home in Glasgow and tells her that he is under investigation.

In Salmond’s later written evidence, he states the First Minister “suggested that she would intervene in favour of a mediation process at an appropriate stage” but subsequently decided against intervening.

Sturgeon has argued she thought this was a party meeting, rather than a government one.

April 23

Salmond calls Sturgeon twice, asking her to encourage the permanent secretary to accept his mediation request.

June 7

Sturgeon meets Salmond in Aberdeen, ahead of the SNP conference.

July 14

Sturgeon and Salmond meet at the First Minister’s Glasgow home.

August 21

The Crown Office passes complaints about Salmond to police.

August 22

Salmond is told the government inquiry is complete.

August 23

The Scottish Government tells Salmond’s lawyers it intends to release a public statement about the investigation, but agrees not to until an interim interdict application seeking to block publication has been heard.

The Daily Record newspaper breaks news of the allegations against Salmond via a tweet.

He denies misconduct and calls some of the allegations “patently ridiculous”.

August 28

Salmond lodges a petition for a judicial review at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

August 29

Salmond resigns from the SNP, but says he will apply to rejoin once he has cleared his name.

He launches a crowdfunding appeal for the review, which quickly reaches more than £100,000.

September 14

Police confirm they have launched an investigation into the complaints against Salmond, separate from the government’s investigation and the judicial review process.

January 8, 2019

A week before the full judicial review is due to start, the Scottish Government concedes defeat at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

The government’s lawyers accept that investigating officer Ms Mackinnon has had previous contact with the complainers.

The court concludes the investigation was “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”.

Ms Evans releases a statement apologising to “all involved” and Salmond calls for her to consider her position.

January 13

Sturgeon refers herself to independent advisers to rule on whether she breached the ministerial code in her meetings with Salmond.

January 15

MSPs agree to hold a Holyrood inquiry into the government’s handling of the complaints against Salmond.

January 23

Police Scotland arrest Salmond.

January 24

Salmond appears at Edinburgh Sheriff Court and is charged with several sexual offences, including attempted rape, which he denies.

August 2

The Scottish Government pays £511,250 to Salmond in connection with the judicial review.

February 26, 2020

The Scottish Parliament Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaint meets for the first time.

March 9

Salmond’s criminal trial starts at the High Court in Edinburgh.

March 23

Salmond is acquitted on all charges.

The jury returns not guilty verdicts on 12 charges, including attempted rape, and a further not proven verdict is returned on a charge of sexual assault with intent to rape.

August 18

The Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints hears evidence from its first witness, the permanent secretary.

September 29

Committee convener Linda Fabiani warns their investigation is being “completely frustrated” by a lack of evidence from key witnesses, and accuses the Scottish Government of “obstruction”.

November 4

The Scottish Parliament passes a motion demanding the government reveals the legal advice it received during the judicial review.

December 18

The inquiry into the Salmond affair reaches an agreement with the Scottish Government over access to previously undisclosed material.

January 13, 2021

Salmond rejects an invitation to appear before the committee in person on February 19, citing public health grounds.

January 20

Salmond alleges the Scottish Government’s “reprehensible” failure to release “crucial” documents had put him at a disadvantage in both his criminal trial and legal challenge against the government’s investigation.

In written evidence to the committee, he says his legal team will ask the Lord Advocate whether the government was in contempt of court over the “withholding of relevant evidence”.

January 26

Salmond refuses another offer to appear before the committee the following week.

January 27

The committee offers a final date – February 8 – for Salmond to appear to give evidence.

January 29

The Crown Office confirms it has handed over evidence to the Holyrood inquiry.

It allows the unprecedented step of MSPs issuing a notice to the Crown Office under part of the Scotland Act, demanding the release of documents detailing text or WhatsApp communications between SNP chief operating officer Susan Ruddick and Scottish Government ministers, civil servants or special advisers.

It also asks for any documents linked to the leaking of complaints to the Daily Record newspaper in August 2018.

February 3

Salmond brands the behaviour of the current Scottish Government a “disgrace”, in a written submission to the inquiry.

He accuses Ms Evans of having a “bias” against him.

He also claims the “overwhelming likelihood” is that someone in the government leaked details of the case against him to the press.

February 8

Salmond declines to appear before the harassment committee over concerns about the committee not publishing his evidence.

His submission, published elsewhere online, accused Sturgeon of breaching the ministerial code with “false and manifestly untrue” statements to parliament, which she denies.

Salmond’s lawyers say he “cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth” until a number of concerns were addressed, including the publication of the evidence by the committee and concerns about him being “in legal jeopardy”.

February 25

Alex Salmond agrees to appear before the Holyrood inquiry after his evidence is published in a redacted form following a long drawn-out saga.

February 26

Salmond gives evidence to the Holyrood committee.

He says Scotland’s “leadership has failed” and calls for the Lord Advocate and the head of Scotland’s civil service, Leslie Evans, to resign over the handling of the complaints against him.

He says he has “no doubt” Sturgeon broke rules governing the behaviour of ministers, but stops short of saying she should resign.

March 2

The Scottish Conservatives call on Sturgeon to resign after the Scottish Government published legal advice related to the botched investigation.

Deputy first minister John Swinney agreed to hand over the legal advice under threat of a no-confidence vote, and acknowledged “reservations were raised” by government lawyers about the way allegations about Salmond were investigated.

The Scottish Conservatives say they will submit a no-confidence motion in the First Minister.


Forbes: Budget ‘must respect devolution and not cut funding’

Rishi Sunak is due to set out his spending plans in the House of Commons at 12.30pm.

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Budget: 'Must respect devolution'.

The Chancellor’s Budget must provide adequate funding and respect devolution, Scotland’s finance secretary has said.

As Scotland’s political parties set out their requests for Rishi Sunak, Kate Forbes said decision-making should not be centralised at Westminster.

Sunak is due to set out his spending plans in the House of Commons at 12.30pm on Wednesday.

Ahead of his statement, SNP minister Forbes said: “The Chancellor must not turn this into a budget that centralises resources and decision-making at Westminster.

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“We are still in the throes of a national emergency and it is vital we receive the funds needed to continue to support Scottish businesses and livelihoods.

“The Scottish Government has acted decisively to provide our economy with stability and certainly whenever possible.

“As well as extending non-domestic rates relief by 12 months for the sectors worst hit by pandemic, we have an ongoing commitment to provide Covid-19 grants to businesses as lockdown measures begin ease.

“This lifeline support is contingent on the receipt of additional consequential funding from today’s budget.

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“It is therefore more important than ever that the Chancellor today respects the devolution settlement and allows the Scottish Government to effectively develop its ongoing response to the pandemic.”

She said it would be “unacceptable” if the Scottish Government’s budget was cut to pay for UK Government policies.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said businesses needed a clear recovery plan which would protect jobs.

He said: “The top priority for governments in both Edinburgh and London must be bringing our country together so that we can recover from the pandemic.

“Labour is committed to delivering growth across the entire UK, supporting our high streets to thrive, and protecting family finances.

“We understand that having good businesses is vital to creating good jobs, which is why under my leadership we will be a pro-business party – and I will work hard to rebuild our party’s relationship with employers.”

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross set out eight priorities, including funding for free ports, city deals, extending the £20 Universal Credit uplift and backing key infrastructure projects.

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He said: “The pandemic has shown us that Scotland’s place in the UK has been vital in securing jobs and businesses and protecting the most vulnerable in society.

“We have benefitted from almost £10bn of extra funding as well as UK-wide support schemes such as furlough.

“While the sleazy SNP rip themselves apart and plot to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK, my budget asks are all about how best to support and grow the Scottish economy as we emerge from the pandemic.

“The Chancellor has an incredibly tough job but I am confident he will continue to deliver for the people of Scotland.”


Call for Sturgeon to resign over Salmond evidence

The government published legal advice on the Salmond judicial review on Tuesday.

STV News
Former first minister Alex Salmond and his successor Nicola Sturgeon.

Nicola Sturgeon is facing calls to resign after fresh questions were raised about her role in the Alex Salmond affair.

The Scottish Government has published legal advice related to its botched investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against the former first minister.

It showed the government continued the legal fight despite being advised there was a “real risk” it would lose.

The failed action eventually cost taxpayers around £600,000.

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Meanwhile, further witness statements released by a Holyrood inquiry have raised questions over Sturgeon’s version of events.

The First Minister is due to give evidence to MSPs on Wednesday, however the Scottish Tories said they would now submit a motion of no confidence her.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Credible witnesses have now backed up Alex Salmond’s claims and the legal advice shows the government knew months in advance that the judicial review was doomed but they still went on to waste more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money.

“There is no longer any doubt that Nicola Sturgeon lied to the Scottish Parliament and broke the ministerial code on numerous counts.”

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He added: “The weight of the evidence is overwhelming. Nicola Sturgeon must resign.

“We will be submitting a vote of no confidence in the First Minister.”

Responding to Conservatives’ statement, a spokesperson for the First Minister said: “The First Minister will address all of the issues raised – and much more besides – at the committee tomorrow, while the independent adviser on the ministerial code will report in due course.  

“But to call a vote of no confidence in the middle of a pandemic, before hearing a single word of the First Minister’s evidence, is utterly irresponsible. 

“It is for the public to decide who they want to govern Scotland and – while we continue to fight the Covid pandemic – with the election campaign starting in just 20 days, that is precisely what they will be able to do.”

The Scottish Government launched an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by the former first minister, but it was found to be unlawful, unfair and “tainted by apparent bias” because of prior contact between the investigating officer and two of the women who complained.

Redacted legal advice published by the Scottish Government on Tuesday evening showed that lawyers advised them in September 2018 that there “is a real risk that the court may be persuaded by the petitioner’s case in respect of the ground of challenge based on ‘procedural unfairness’.”

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On December 6, 2018 legal advisers told ministers that in their view the “least worst option” would be to concede the petition.

They wrote: “We understand how unpalatable that advice will be, and we do not tender it lightly.

“But we cannot let the respondents sail forth into January’s hearing without the now very real risks of doing so being crystal clear to all concerned.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the published legal advice showed the Scottish Government were right to carry on with their legal action.

He said: “Today the Scottish Government has taken the exceptional step of releasing key legal advice.

“We have done this in recognition of the overwhelming public interest in rebutting the false allegations made about the advice informing decision-making in the judicial review.

“These documents are clear. Our legal advice was optimistic about the government’s prospects for success at the start. It became gradually but progressively less optimistic over time.

“It was only in December that the advice concluded that our case was no longer stateable and we should concede. Indeed, as late as December 11, ministers were advised that we should continue.

“Within a matter of days of being advised that the case was no stateable, we have taken the decision to concede. That was right and proper.

“Significantly, however, this comprehensively disproves claims that we had continued the case in defiance of legal advice. That is categorically untrue and these documents put that beyond doubt.”

Scottish Labour said the published legal advice showed the government’s handling of the complaints had been “indefensible”.

Deputy lead Jackie Bailie said: “The Scottish Government’s unlawful handling of harassment complaints appears to be indefensible, and I look forward to having the opportunity to question the First Minister on the failings of her government.”

Sturgeon has repeatedly denied breaching the ministerial code over the Salmond saga.


Furlough scheme to be extended until September at 80%

Rishi Sunak is expected to confirm an extension to the furlough scheme as he reveals the government's budget plan.

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Sunak: Set to announce extension of furlough scheme.

The chancellor is set to announce that the government’s furlough scheme will be extended until September.

Rishi Sunak is expected to confirm the decision as he reveals the government’s budget plan on Wednesday.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has protected around 11 million jobs throughout the UK since the start of the pandemic.

And Wednesday’s announcement will mean that businesses and individuals will now continue to be supported through the next stage of lockdown with furlough payments remaining at 80% of the employees salary.

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Although employers will now be asked to pay a percentage towards their staff’s furlough payments.

Sunak is also set to announce that more than 600,000 people will now be able to claim direct cash grants under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).  

The chancellor said: “Our Covid support schemes have been a lifeline to millions, protecting jobs and incomes across the UK.

“There’s now light at the end of the tunnel with a roadmap for reopening, so it’s only right that we continue to help business and individuals through the challenging months ahead – and beyond.”

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A statement released by the UK government on Tuesday said: “As restrictions are eased and the economy begins to reopen, businesses will be asked to contribute alongside the taxpayer to the cost of paying their employees for hours not worked.

“The government will ask for a small contribution of just 10% in July and 20% in August and September towards the hours their staff do not work.”


Lockdown exit set to accelerate as more pupils return to school

The First Minister also revealed that the next phase of school returns will go ahead as scheduled on March 15.

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The Scottish Government will consider in the next week if the easing of restrictions can be accelerated, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

In an update to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, the First Minister also revealed that the next phase of school returns will go ahead as scheduled on March 15.

Primaries 4-7 will go back as previously planned on that date, while secondary pupils will now get some time in school before the Easter holidays.

At the moment Scotland is due to return to a regional, five-level system from the last week in April. However, the exit out of lockdown could come sooner due to “encouraging” figures recorded in the past week.

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The First Minister said: “We will be considering if it might be possible to accelerate the exit from lockdown in any way, consistent of course with the care and caution that we know continues to be necessary.”

Sturgeon said if the Scottish Government can go “further and faster, then we will not hesitate to do so”.

She added: “All of us want to move on as quickly as possible – and, as a priority, to see friends and family again. I hope that day is now not too far away.

“But to make sure we don’t see any reverse in our progress that would put that in jeopardy, it is really important that, for now, we all need to abide by the lockdown rules.

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“So please continue to stick to their letter and their spirit.”

On Tuesday it was revealed that a further 33 people have died in Scotland after being diagnosed with Covid-19. An additional 542 cases were also recorded in the past 24 hours.

Sturgeon highlighted that the average of new cases reported had dropped to 657 from 815 at this point last week. Case positivity is now consistently below 5%.

The First Minister also confirmed that the next phase of school returns will go ahead as planned.

Last week’s strategic framework said all primary school pupils would return full-time, if data supported the return.

A phased return of pupils will take place between March 15 and the Easter break, with all pupils given at least some in-school teaching in that time, before full-time schooling returns after the holidays.

However, when secondary schools return, face coverings will have to be worn at all times and physical distancing guidelines followed.

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The First Minister also urged school staff and older secondary pupils to take up the lateral flow tests being made available.

She said: “I would encourage as many staff and senior phase pupils as possible to use the tests when they return to school. It is a further important way in which we can ensure that schools remain as safe as possible.”

The First Minister also thanked school staff for their work to support young people during the pandemic.

She said: “I know everyone is looking forward to having children back in the classroom as soon as possible.

“I also want to thank parents across the country. I can only imagine how difficult all of this disruption continues to be – but I hope, and believe, that the end of it is now firmly in sight.

“And my thanks too to children and young people. I know how hard it must be to be separated from friends and teachers.

“But you have responded magnificently to all the difficulties of the last year.

“I hope that you are looking forward to getting back to school later this month.”

The Scottish Conservatives said the earlier-than-planned return of secondary pupils was the “latest SNP u-turn”.

Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said: “While today marks a gradual speeding up for a return to schools, the First Minister’s latest announcement was also typically vague and only prolongs uncertainty.

“No-one wants to risk an increase in cases by moving too quickly but pupils deserve better than guesswork based on the SNP’s drip feeding of partial information.”


‘Vaccine passports’ could restart international travel

A Scottish Government adviser believes 'vaccine passports' could allow easier international travel.

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A system of vaccine passports could ultimately allow the return of international travel, MSPs have been told.

Professor Devi Sridhar of Edinburgh University spoke to the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee about international travel regulations during the pandemic.

The Scottish Government adviser said that if coronavirus vaccines significantly reduced transmission of the disease, as initial evidence suggested, electronic vaccine passports could help to restart international tourism.

She said EU countries were already developing plans for a digital green pass, with countries like Spain and Greece keen to welcome visitors again.

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Prof Sridhar said: “I think if these vaccines stop transmission, which they look like they might, we will reach a stage of vaccine passports.

“It’s already being discussed in the EU. We already have countries like Israel introducing green cards domestically, if you actually have gotten vaccinated.

“You will be allowed to fly and we can have international mobility, but only when people are vaccinated and we have that confirmation that you will not infect others when you travel.”

She said airlines have also collaborated to create an application called CommonPass, which allows passengers to upload medical information such as test results or vaccination status, and generates a pass in the form of a QR code.

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Prof Sridhar said this could lead to a two-tiered approach as many poorer countries in the world do not yet have access to vaccines.

Some countries were considering using vaccination certificates domestically to allow people to access clubs or bars, she said.

The professor added that a vaccine passport could encourage more a widespread take up of the coronavirus vaccine: “This is also to encourage young people to get vaccinated because many people in their 30s think: ‘Why should I get vaccinated?”‘

“And then you can really start creating an incentive for people to say: ‘If you want to go to the concert, if you want to be able to be active in places where spreading occurs, then you have to protect and make sure you’re not infecting others.”‘



Coronavirus: 33 deaths and 542 fresh cases in Scotland

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 784 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19.

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Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

A further 33 people have died in Scotland after being diagnosed with coronavirus, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

The death toll of those who tested positive stands at 7164, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is at least 9347.

Total confirmed cases of the virus has risen to 203,012 – an increase of 542 in the past 24 hours.

The daily test positivity rate is 4.4%, down from the 4.5% reported on Monday when 386 cases were recorded.

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Of the new cases reported on Tuesday, 158 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 104 are in Lothian, 101 are in Lanarkshire, and 74 are in Forth Valley.

The rest of the cases are spread out across eight other health board areas.

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 784 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19

The Scottish Government also confirmed that 1,634,361 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, an increase of 22,783 from the day before.

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A total of 84,445 people have received their second dose, a rise of 5580.


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