NICOLA Sturgeon’s official spokesman has been accused of breaching the code of conduct for special advisers after he claimed pro-union parties were embarking on "a clear denial of democracy".

Speaking to journalists last Thursday, Stuart Nicolson, the First Minister’s chief spin doctor said the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems were "trying to pretend they won an election they lost" and "trying to deny the reality of an election result in a free and fair democracy." 

In a letter to Ms Sturgeon, Alexander Burnett, the Tory chief whip, said this went "beyond a general political attack and makes a very specific and exaggerated accusation without any basis whatsoever."

The MSP said this could be in breach of section 14 of the code of conduct which states that "special advisers must not take public part in political controversies, through any form of statement whether in speeches or letters to the press, or in books, social media, articles or leaflets."

He said the official may also have broken rules on "moderation" by claiming the "word democracy is now being feted as a thought crime by unionist politicians."

Mr Burnett said: "The First Minister must explain whether she authorised this outburst – as the rules state she is required to.

"And if she did not, she should accept responsibility for having failed to ensure that her advisers abide by the rules.

“These comments went far beyond advocating the Scottish Government’s position and the requirements of discretion and moderation laid down.

"The First Minister should act to make it clear that advisers will stick within the rules, and that such immoderate and incendiary claims undermine the integrity of her Government.”

The remarks came at the weekly briefing for journalists following First Minster's Questions last Thursday, the day after five justices on the Supreme Court ruled that Holyrood could not hold an independence referendum without the consent of Westminster.

Mr Nicolson criticised Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton for comparing the SNP leader to former US President Donald Trump. 

It came after Ms Sturgeon said she was rebranding the Yes campaign as “Scotland’s democracy movement”.

Mr Cole-Hamilton tweeted: “This ‘Scotland’s democracy movement’ title is straight out of the Trump playbook and can get in the bin."

The First Minister’s official spokesman said that kind of comment was “ludicrous”.

He told reporters: “If the word democracy is now being treated as a thought crime by unionist politicians it says everything about where they’ve got to.

"I saw one of them, I think it was Cole-Hamilton, using the predictable Trump jibe. 

“The only people behaving like Donald Trump are the Unionist politicians who are trying to pretend they won an election they lost.”

Asked if he was saying that the opposition parties were denying the election result of 2021, the spokesman replied: “Well, they appear to be. There’s a clear majority for a referendum in parliament. They appear to be in some way questioning or denying that."

Asked if the parties didn’t accept the election result, he said: “They don’t accept the result.”

He added: “There is a clear denial of democracy at play. They’re throwing around the Trump jibes.

"I’m merely saying that the only people behaving like Donald Trump are people who try and deny the reality of election results. They’re trying to deny the reality of an election result in a free and fair democracy.”


The First Minister defended her aide, and rejected Mr Burnett's claims that the code of conduct had been breached. 

In a letter, the SNP leader said the comments were "entirely consistent with views I have previously expressed in relation to the stance of opposition parties following last year's Scottish Parliament election result and also reflected my response to the judgment handed down by the Supreme Court."

She added: "It is, of course, one of the principal functions of special advisers to represent the views of ministers to the media, including providing a political viewpoint.

"That is precisely what's happened here. It is, therefore beyond any doubt that the special advisor was acting entirely in line with the rules as defined in the code of conduct, and it was doing so with my full authority.

"I, therefore, reject as entirely groundless, your assertion that a breach of the code of conduct special advisers has occurred. I hope you find this reply, helpful."