Nicola Sturgeon entered the Robert Burns room in the Scottish Parliament apparently embattled after fresh testimony about her role in the Alex Salmond affair. Her government had been forced to publish legal advice the parliamentary inquiry had been seeking for months after her deputy faced a possible vote of no confidence and the Conservatives were calling for her to resign as first minister.
During eight hours of robust questioning, Sturgeon was at times evasive or defensive but none of her inquisitors dealt a knockout blow. On each of the main charges against her, she had a plausible answer – or was at least able to create some uncertainty about where the truth lay.
When he appeared before the committee last Friday, Salmond adopted a careful, measured tone, seeking to suppress the anger he felt about how his former protege had handled allegations of sexual assault against him. Sturgeon took the opposite approach, stressing the emotional impact of the allegations on her and her unhappiness at finding herself pitted against her political mentor.
In her opening statement, she described how Salmond had shown her a letter outlining the complaints that had been made against him.
“Reading this letter is a moment in my life that I will never forget, and although he denied the allegations, he gave me his account of one of the incidents complained of, which he said he had apologised for at the time, what he described constituted in my view, deeply inappropriate behaviour on his part, perhaps another reason why that moment is embedded so strongly in my mind,” she said.
This was the first moment in her testimony that she reminded the committee of the original allegations against Salmond but it was something she returned to again and again. Adopting a tone tinged with sorrow rather than anger, she also portrayed him as acutely sensitive to his own feelings, but not to those of others.
“Alex spoke on Friday about what a nightmare the last couple of years have been for him, and I don’t doubt that. I have thought often about the impact on him, he was someone I cared about for a long time. And maybe that’s why on Friday, I found myself, searching for any sign, any sign at all, that he recognised how difficult this has been for others too,” she said.
Sturgeon’s testimony will not have changed the minds of her political opponents, but it has given those who want to give her the benefit of the doubt a solid basis for doing so.