Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of desperation after she lashed out at questions over the Alex Salmond affair and claimed her husband was being “used as a weapon” against her.
The First Minister was challenged after Peter Murrell, her spouse and the SNP chief executive, is alleged to have contradicted her evidence when he appeared before MSPs this week.
In response to Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader, Ms Sturgeon also complained of opponents engaging in “wild conspiracy theories” and said she had not spoken to her husband about the Salmond case as she was “not the office gossip”.
Her official spokesman later launched his own outburst against MSPs investigating how £500,000 of taxpayers’ money came to be lost to Mr Salmond, claiming the probe, which has an SNP convenor, had become a “blatantly partisan political exercise”.
Meanwhile, further questions were raised over when SNP high command first became aware of allegations against Mr Salmond, after Angus Robertson, the party’s ex-Westminster leader and Ms Sturgeon’s former deputy, admitted he had been told of claims of inappropriate behaviour towards women over a decade ago.
Mr Robertson, who is an ally of Ms Sturgeon and is standing to become an MSP in May, said a manager at Edinburgh Airport complained about Mr Salmond’s conduct towards female staff in 2009.
He said he spoke informally with Mr Salmond, who denied the claims, and did not report the matter further.
Ms Sturgeon maintains the first she heard of any allegations of sexual misconduct was when the SNP were approached by Sky News about the airport incident in late 2017.
Mr Salmond has always denied any criminality and was cleared of 13 charges of sexual assault in March.
At Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon was challenged over a meeting at her home with Mr Salmond in April 2018, when he revealed he was facing a government investigation. She maintains the meeting was a party matter, meaning she would not have been obliged to record it under the ministerial code.
However, Mr Murrell, who Ms Sturgeon married in 2010, told the Holyrood inquiry this week that his wife had not relayed details of the meeting to him as it was a “government matter”.
Ms Davidson said his evidence “plainly contradicted the First Minister’s version of events.”
The First Minister said: “Ruth Davidson might want to attack my husband and use him as a weapon against me – people will draw their conclusions about that – but it does not change the basic fact of the matter, which is that he had no role in the issues.”
She added: “The fact of the matter is that I am First Minister of Scotland. I deal with confidential matters every day of my life. I do not gossip about those things, even to my husband. I am the First Minister of the country, not the office gossip, and I take my responsibilities in that role extremely seriously.”
Following the exchange, Ms Davidson said: “The First Minister’s repeated references to her husband were a desperate, pathetic and transparent attempt at deflection and, frankly, were beneath a woman of her professional standing.”
Ms Sturgeon said she was expecting to appear in person before the committee within a “few weeks”.
She is expected to be challenged over claims that she broke the ministerial code by not telling civil servants about the meeting with Mr Salmond, and over when she first became aware of allegations against him.
In his own letter to the committee, Mr Robertson said: “In 2009 I was called by an Edinburgh Airport manager about Alex Salmond’s perceived “inappropriateness” towards female staff at the airport.
“I was asked if I could informally broach the subject with Mr Salmond to make him aware of this perception. I raised the matter directly with Mr Salmond, who denied he had acted inappropriately in any way.
“I communicated back to the Edinburgh Airport manager that a conversation had happened. The matter being resolved, and without a formal complaint having been made, it was not reported further.”