Nicola Sturgeon should resign if a Holyrood inquiry finds that she breached the ministerial code, whether or not it concludes she did so deliberately, according to Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar.
The leaders of UK and Scottish Labour were responding to leaks on Thursday night, which suggested that the special Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish government’s handling of harassment allegations against Alex Salmond had concluded by a narrow majority that Sturgeon gave an “inaccurate” account of her meetings with Salmond in 2018 during evidence on oath to MSPs earlier this month.
That conclusion amounts to an accusation Sturgeon misled parliament – but the committee is understood not to have ruled that she did so “knowingly”. Knowingly misleading parliament would be a clear breach of the ministerial code and a resignation matter.
“I’m in no doubt that if a minister, regardless of party or personality, is found to have misled parliament and breached the code then the code is very clear: that the minister is expected to resign”, said Sarwar.
Starmer added: “ Obviously, the focus is very much on the individual Nicola Sturgeon but actually it’s bigger than that. It’s about the integrity of the Scottish parliament, the integrity of the office of first minister and standards in public life. The code is explicit and the expectation has to be – if there is a breach of the code – then there should be a resignation.”
At a joint press briefing on Friday morning to mark Starmer’s first visit to Scotland since Sarwar was elected Scottish Labour leader last month, both stopped short of calling for Sturgeon to resign, saying it was important not to pre-judge the inquiry’s full report, which will be published next Tuesday.
Asked about the significance of the committee’s conclusion that Sturgeon did not mislead them “knowingly”, Sarwar said: “A breach is a breach, and misleading of the parliament is a misleading of the parliament.”
Starmer added: “The first minister was absolutely clear in the foreword [that she wrote] to the code that she would lead by example and follow the letter and spirit of the code. Obviously there will be technical issues that may come up next week, but the spirit of the code is really important because that goes to the integrity of the office of first minister.”
Sarwar added that the leaking of the committee’s partial conclusions was “completely unacceptable” and risked distracting from the fundamental principles of the inquiry.