NICOLA Sturgeon’s husband has been accused of giving unbelievable evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair.

SNP chief executive Peter Murrell was challenged after insisting Ms Sturgeon didn’t tell him she feared Mr Salmond was coming to their house to resign from the party over a scandal.

Mr Murrell said all he knew was that Mr Salmond was “popping in for a chat”.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton told him: “I’m sorry, I just don’t believe it.”

Mr Murrell replied incoherently: “Well, I mean, I think, well, you’re coming to it from, you know, a position of em... but anyway, by the by, em, you know I think Nicola will be here next week, you can ask her what she thought.”

The inquiry is looking at how the Scottish Government botched its probe into sexual misconduct claims made against the former first minister him by civil servants in 2018.

He had the exercise overturned in a judicial review, showing it was “tainted by apparent bias”, a Government flaw that left taxpayers with a £512,000 for his costs.

He was later charged with sexual assault but cleared on all counts at a trial last March.

After the Government’s defence of the civil case collapsed in January 2019, Ms Sturgeon admitted meeting Mr Salmond three times while he was under investigation by her officials.

Mr Murrell was asked today about the first of those meetings on 2 April 2018 at which Ms Sturgeon claims her predecessor first told her he was being investigated.

Ms Sturgeon has told the Scottish Parliament that she took the meeting and the two later ones in her capacity as SNP leader, and so no official records were kept of it.

However Mr Salmond claims Ms Sturgeon knew all along that the meeting was to discuss the Government investigation, and that she therefore misled parliament on the issue and so breached the Scottish ministerial code - a resignation offence which she denies. 

Giving evidence a second time to the inquiry, Mr Murrell was asked if Ms Sturgeon had actually been silent because she knew Mr Salmond was coming on Government business, which she could not share with her husband, rather than party business which she could.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond inquiry: Nicola Sturgeon's husband Peter Murrell 'refutes' perjury claim but ducks key question

In her written evidence to the inquiry, Ms Sturgeon said she took the first meeting with Mr Salmond because she thought it concerned a matter of high importance to the SNP.

She wrote: “When I agreed to meet with Alex Salmond on 2 April 2018, I believed that what  he was about to tell me may require a public response from the SNP. 

“Indeed, I suspected that he may be about to resign from the SNP.”

She went on: “The impression I had at this time was that Mr Salmond was in a state of considerable distress, and that he may be considering resigning his party membership.

“I thought Mr Salmond may be about to resign from the SNP and that, as a result of this or other aspects of how he intended to handle the matter he was dealing with, the party could have been facing a public/media issue that we would require to respond to. As Party Leader, I considered it important that I knew if this was in fact the case in order that I could prepare the party to deal with what would have been a significant issue.”

However in his evidence today, Mr Murrell said his wife hadn’t mentioned any of that, despite his key role in managing the SNP's affairs. 

He said: “On the Sunday evening [before the visit] Nicola mentioned Alex would be popping in the next day, coming into the house.”

Asked if he assumed the meeting was not about party business, given his wife hadn’t told him the nature of it, Mr Murrell said: “It was limited to the fact that Alex was popping in. It could have been about anything. It wasn’t an unusual event, as, you know, he was just popping in.”

He added: "I didn’t make anything of it. I didn’t ask.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton asked whether Ms Sturgeon had been silent because she knew Mr Salmond was coming on Government business rather than party business.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond threatens to snub Holyrood inquiry over censored evidence

Dodging the question, Mr Murrell said the inquiry should ask his wife instead.

He said: “Nicola will be here next week, and the only view that really counts here is her view. It’s not for me to speculate or determine the basis or nature of things I wasn’t involved in.

“So, you know, she’ll be here next week and you can ask her what she thought was the position going into the meeting.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “This is the thing that really doesn’t well with me.

In her written evidence to the committee, Nicola Sturgeon said that prior to the meeting of 2nd of April, she thought, and I quote, ‘that Mr Salmond may be about to resign from the SNP. As leader of the party I considered it important that I knew if this was in fact the case in order that I could prepare the party to deal with what would have been a significant issue’.

“So that was her view before the 2nd of April.

“Mr Murrell, you are chief executive of the SNP.

"Surely nobody prepares your party for anything that big without your involvement, particularly if they share a house with you?”

HeraldScotland:

Mr Murrell replied: “Well, Nicola is the leader of the party, and what she tells me is really a matter for her. We went through this last time on the 8th of December where you were referring to how the Liberal Democrats manage their media operation.

“As I think I said at the time, you deal with things, certainly in government, when they arise. “The same is true of the party. 

“When things come to a fore, you deal with them at that point, You don’t deal with things in advance. You deal with them as they come down the track at you. 

“So it’s, you know, that’s just the way of it. That’s just how it works.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton said he could understand the couple not wanting to talk about politics about the time at home, but said: “This isn’t like run-of-the-mill party business. This is potentially one of the biggest blows to befall your party in its history.

“That one of its most celebrated leaders, one of its most successful leaders, was on the point of resigning, and with it potentially taking a huge faction of members with him... If that was what Nicola Sturgeon attests was her principal concern for what that meeting was going to be about, I just don’t find it credible that she wouldn't have discussed that with you as chief executive. Even just to take your mind on it, to take advice.”

READ MORE: Alex Salmond's letter threatening to snub Holyroood inquiry

Mr Murrell replied: “At that point, Nicola hadn’t talked to Alex. She didn’t talk top him till that day. So what he was planning to say to her, he knew, and she, as she has set out in her evidence, thought that he may be about to resign from the party.

“But until that conversation took place, you just don’t know the situation is.”
Mr Cole-Hamilton went on: “But husbands and wives share things. Partners share things.

"If the role was revered and there was something that big in my party, I would be feeling a knot in the pint of my stomach about this.

"I would be wanting to speak to my wife about the anxiety I had thinking, Oh my goodness there is an iceberg coming for our party, and we need to game out what we need to do.

“I’m sorry, Mr Murrell, I just don’t believe it.”

Mr Murrell replied: “Well, I mean, I think, well, you’re coming to it from, you know, a position of em... but anyway, by the by, em, you know I think Nicola will be here next week, you can ask her what she thought and what she thought in advance of the meeting and afterwards, and what happened at the meeting.

“I can just tell you what I knew, which was that he was coming to the house, and that was all I knew at the time.”

In later evidence to Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, Mr Murrell repeated that he thought Mr Salmond’s visit was essentially social.

He said: “I just thought he was popping in for a chat about any matter.

“I had no awareness of the fact that it was a meeting for a purpose.

“I thought he was just coming for a catch-up with Nicola. It’s pretty simple.” 

Mr Salmond had been due to give his oral evidence in person tomorrow, but has pulled out over a row about the inquiry refusing to publish his evidence.