NICOLA Sturgeon has repeatedly refused to say if she would quit if she is found to have lied to parliament over the Alex Salmond affair, despite it being considered an automatic resignation offence.

Challenged three times at First Minister’s Questions on the point, Ms Sturgeon said the issue was “hypothetical” and denied breaching the Scottish Ministerial Code by misleading MSPs.

"That is my position right now," she said.

She accused interim Labour leader Jackie Baillie, who pressed the issue, of “pre-judging” her as a member of the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair.

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However, the Ministerial Code is unambiguous.  

Section 1.3 (c) states: "Ministers who knowingly mislead the Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the First Minister."

HeraldScotland:

Ms Sturgeon said the issue was one which would have to wait until the outcome of an independent investigation into whether she did mislead MSPs.

The First Minister also took a series of digs at Mr Salmond, who has threatened to boycott the inquiry unless it meets his pre-conditions, and said she would be willing to answer all questions in her oral evidence on Tuesday, unlike others.

She also suggested the inquiry should use its powers of compulsion to force Mr Salmond to appear at it.

The former First Minister refused to testify yesterday after MSPs voted against publishing a 21-page submission, in which he accuses Ms Sturgeon of misleading MSPs, on legal grounds.

He is now awaiting the outcome of a challenge by the Spectator magazine at the High Court in Edinburgh tomorrow which could clear the way to the inquiry publishing the material in full.

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The inquiry is looking at how the Scottish Government botched its probe into sexual misconduct claims made against Mr Salmond by two civil servants in 2018.

The former FM 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 bill for his legal costs.

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

Before her questions, Ms Bailie said she was not pre-judging the outcome of the inquiry and looked forward to hearing Ms Sturgeon testify before it.

She then reminded Ms Sturgeon she was being investigated by former Irish prosecutor James Hamilton QC over a potential breach of the ministerial code.

She said: “The ministerial code exists to protect the public interest, to ensure that there is trust between politicians and the public, and for the public to hold the government to account. If she is found to have the ministerial code, will she resign?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “This is the Jackie Baillie that’s not prejudging the outcome!”

She then talked about the committee process, and said women involved in the origins of the inquiry felt it was letting them down.

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She said: “When the committee has concluded its work - and I still hope the committee will perhaps use the powers that are available to it to ensure that everybody relevant sits before this committee and gives evidence, but that’s a matter for the committee and for Jackie Baillie - but when the committee has reported and when James Hamilton, and I’m fully cooperating with that inquiry, when then outcomes of those inquiries are published, then people can ask me then and I can set out what I intend to do.

“But I do not believe I breached the ministerial code and that is my position right now, and I think I’m entitled to due process just like everybody else.”

Mr Baillie said she was not pre-judging and not asking about the committee on inquiry.

She said: “The First Minister cannot simply ignore the ministerial code. That would have deeply damaging consequences to this parliament, to the Government, and to our democracy.”

She then asked if Ms Sturgeon had misled parliament by claiming to have “forgotten” a meeting important to the Salmond inquiry, on 29 March 2018, between her and Mr Salmond’s chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, which she said was “fleeting” and “opportunistic”.

Ms Baillie said: “But it was the case that the meeting was pre-arranged and for the specific purpose of discussing the complaints made against Alex Salmond.”

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She then quoted the section of the ministerial code which says ministers who knowingly mislead parliament are expected to offer their resignation.

“I ask again, if the First Minister is found to have breached the ministerial code, will she resign?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “I don’t believe I did breach the ministerial code, and therefore I’m not going to engage on the hypothetical.

"When James Hamilton issues his report, we can have an open discussion on the basis of whatever findings he arrives at, just as no doubt we can have an open discussion when the committee arrives at whatever findings it arrives at.

“I do think Jackie Baillie is really stretching it here when she says she’s not prejudging things, and then asks me a string of questions designed to prejudge exactly the outcome of this.”

She said Ms Baillie could ask her “whatever questions she chooses to on Tuesday, and I  look forward to having that opportunity”, and repeated that if the inquiry wanted full transparency it should ensure it had all the relevant witnesses give evidence.

Ms Baillie said: “Every time I ask a question about the ministerial code investigation, the First Minister replies with rhetoric about the committee. My questions are specific to the ministerial code investigation.”

She said it wasn’t just whether parliament had been misled that Ms Sturgeon should be investigated over, but also whether she broke Section 2.30 in relation to the judicial review by failing to concede the case as soon the Government realised it was a lost cause.

She said: “I ask again, if the First Minister is found to have breached the ministerial code, will she resign?”

Ms Sturgeon said: “Jackie Baillie stands up here and says she is not prejudging the outcome of things in one breadth, but in the next breath says ‘we know’ things.

“Before the committee has even heard a single word in oral session from me. 

“I think Jackie Baillie should really decide whether she’s open-minded, objective and impartial on this, or whether she has pre-judged.

“I suspect that for Jackie Baillie and some Conservatives, it doesn’t mater what I say, the press releases will already be written, just as I suspect they were before my husband [SNP chief executive Peter Murrell] appeared for a second time earlier this week.

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“I’m well aware of the terms of the ministerial code.

“I do not consider that I breached the ministerial code. I will make that case very, very robustly. And then we will see what the findings of James hamilton are, and when those findings are arrived at, and those findings are published.. .let’s wait and see what those findings are and then we can have all of these discussions.

“But let’s not prejudge the outcome of this.

“I know why the opposition are desperate to get rid of me. I’m under no illusions about that. But I, just like everyone else, am entitled to due process, and I don’t need lectures from Jackie Baillie on democracy.”