Nicola Sturgeon has accused Alex Salmond and a Tory MP who made serious allegations against her as being part of an “old boys’ club”.
The First Minister also referred to “shifty” David Davis as being an “old pal” of her predecessor who had used his position to spread “conspiracy theories”.
In a heated First Minister’s Questions (FMQs), Sturgeon also called on Tory MSP Ruth Davidson to stop listening to Salmond and his “cronies”.
A Holyrood committee is investigating the SNP Government’s mis-handling of sexual misconduct complaints against Salmond when he was First Minister.
Salmond pursued a judicial review and it was agreed the Government probe, which destroyed his friendship with Sturgeon, had been unlawful and tainted by apparent bias.
The Inquiry has descended into a war of words between Salmond and Sturgeon.
The former First Minister believes Sturgeon’s allies plotted against him, while she has accused him of peddling conspiracy theories.
The drama escalated this week after Davis, a veteran Tory MP, used parliamentary privilege to claim emails existed showing that Sturgeon’s chief of staff Liz Lloyd had interfered in the complaints process.
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Davis also suggested a document was withheld by the Government during Salmond’s successful review.
This latter claim was rejected by the Government and a complainer dismissed the allegation about Lloyd as “fundamentally” untrue.
At FMQs, Davidson raised the claim that a legal document had been suppressed and asked whether Sturgeon knew it had happened.
She replied: “It didn’t happen.”
Sturgeon then turned her fire on Davis and Salmond:
“Having David Davis, a Tory MP reading out in the House of Commons, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, his old pal Alex Salmond’s conspiracy theories about the sexual harassment allegations against him must be the very epitome of the old boys’ club.
“Anyone who chooses to cheer that on should not pretend to have the interests of the women concerned at heart.”
She added: “Parliamentary privilege might confer all sorts of protection, unfortunately for Mr Davis it doesn’t turn falsehood into fact.”
Davidson referred to a document handed to the Committee, on the subject of the judicial review, which claimed it would be “less shifty looking” to proceed as proposed.
In response, Sturgeon said this showed counsel saying to the Government that “here’s things we should hand over”, rather than leave open any suggestion of a cover up.
She added: “David Davis made serious, specific allegations in the House of Commons this week, and they have completely fallen apart.”
“Shifty is definitely a word I would use today, but I would use it in relation to David Davis and Ruth Davidson.”
The First Minister admitted the Government made a “serious mistake” over its botched probe into the allegations against Salmond, but added:
“In the world of the old boys’ club that mistake would never have been made, because the allegations would never have been investigated, they would have been swept under the carpet instead.”
On Davidson, she said: “It’s about time she started listening a bit more to the women at the heart of this, and a bit less to Alex Salmond and his cronies.”
After the spat, Davidson said: “The SNP’s old boys’ club continues to ‘protect’ Patrick Grady, who himself had defended Derek Mackay, just two of many SNP politicians accused of not just sleaze, but unacceptable actions.
“If the SNP Government had properly dealt with the shameful behaviour from their old boys’ club, Nicola Sturgeon wouldn’t be in this mess.
“They have utterly failed the women at the heart of this scandal from start to finish. They continue to let the women and the public down by deflecting all blame and covering up important evidence until it’s dragged from them.”