Scotland's former first minister Alex Salmond may have been a “tough guy” to work for, according Nicola Sturgeon, but his successor insisted they had once been “besties”.
The pair are the most successful politicians the Scottish National Party (SNP) has ever had, with Mr Salmond taking the party into government.
He then went on to win an overall majority – something which in turn led to the independence referendum of 2014.
But within hours of the result of that No vote being known, Mr Salmond announced he was quitting as both leader of the SNP and first minister.
Ms Sturgeon then took over both jobs from a man who at that point remained her close ally and mentor.
Giving evidence to the Committee on the Scottish government Handling of Harassment Complaints at Holyrood on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon told Scottish parliament members (MSPs): “Alex Salmond has been for most of my life, since I was about 20, 21 years old, not just a very close political colleague, a friend, someone in my younger days who I looked up to and revered.”
Ms Sturgeon insisted she had “no motive, intention, desire to get Alex Salmond”.
But while the two had once been the closest of allies, she said he is now angry with her – in part because of her refusal to intervene when the Scottish government was investigating complaints against him.
The inquiry into Mr Salmond was launched in 2018 after a number of women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment.
But a successful judicial review by Mr Salmond resulted in the government investigation being ruled unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, resulting in a £512,250 (€591,900) legal fee payout. Mr Salmond was later acquitted of 13 charges following a criminal trial.
Ms Sturgeon first learned the details of those complaints when she met with Mr Salmond at her home on April 2nd, 2018.
After he handed her a letter for Scotland’s most senior civil servant, permanent secretary Leslie Evans, detailing the allegations, Ms Sturgeon said: “My head was spinning, I was experiencing a maelstrom of emotions, I had been told something pretty shocking by Alex Salmond and there were a number of things in my head.”
She insisted she had a “very strong instinctive view that I couldn’t and shouldn’t intervene”.
However, given Mr Salmond was a “long-standing friend and colleague”, she said she had tried to let him down gently – accepting that here she may not have been frank enough.
“Maybe I did it too gently, and he left with an impression I did not intend to give him,” Ms Sturgeon told MSPs.
“I did not intend to intervene, and I did not intervene, and while I know it is more complex than this, I think in terms of his anger towards me, I think that is the root of it with Mr Salmond.”
The first minister told the committee she feels “really uncomfortable” speaking about such matters.
She said: “We’re talking here about serious allegations that have led to the breakdown in a relationship with somebody that was really important to me, on all sorts of levels.
“I do feel uncomfortable when I speak about this, on a human level.”
Their relationship has now disintegrated to the point where Ms Sturgeon said she would “dearly love to get to a point where I don’t have to think about Alex Salmond’s behaviour, or alleged behaviour, ever again”.
She described the former first minister as being a “tough guy to work with”, but said she personally “didn’t experience that very much”.
But she added: “He was a really tough guy to work with, sometimes that was justified, sometimes it wasn’t and there would be times I would tell him he had gone over the score.
“Maybe those of us who had worked with him for so long became inured to that, so we didn’t appreciate it from the perspective of people who weren’t so inured to that.”
Appearing before the committee to face questions about her former mentor “makes me really sad”, Ms Sturgeon also said.
With Mr Salmond having given his evidence to the MSPs last week, she added: “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.”
While she stressed his innocence in terms of the law is “beyond question”, she added: “I know, just from what he told me, that his behaviour was not always appropriate.”
The first minister is now facing calls to resign after two witnesses backed up Mr Salmond’s claim she misled parliament about a meeting between the pair in evidence to the committee.