NICOLA Sturgeon has been cleared of breaching the Scottish Ministerial Code by an independent adviser, relieving pressure on her to resign.

Former Irish prosecutor James Hamilton said the Scottish first minister had not misled parliament over the Alex Salmond affair or otherwise violated the code.

Referring to the four aspects of the code he investigated, Mr Hamitlon concluded: "I am of the opinion that the First Minister did not breach the provisions of the Ministerial Code in respect of any of these matters."

Ms Sturgeon urged the opposition parties to accept the findings, which mean Ms Sturgeon will easily survive a Tory-led no confidence vote tomorrow.

Ms Sturgeon said: "I welcome the conclusions of James Hamilton’s independent investigation, which are comprehensive, evidence-based and unequivocal.

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“Mr Hamilton has considered all of the allegations against me, and I am happy that his report’s findings clear me of any breach of the ministerial code.  

“I sought at every stage in this issue to act with integrity and in the public interest.  As I have previously made clear, I did not consider that I had broken the code, but these findings are official, definitive and independent adjudication of that.

“Prior to its publication, opposition politicians stressed the importance of respecting and accepting the outcome of Mr Hamilton’s independent inquiry, and I committed wholeheartedly to doing so. Now that he has reported, it is incumbent on them to do likewise.  

“Today I want, once again, to remind people that at the heart of this case were women who had the courage to come forward and complain. That they were let down by the Scottish Government’s handling of their complaints is not in dispute, and I again apologise to them for that.

“I was determined, however, at the time these complaints emerged that they should not be swept under the carpet, and that I would not intervene in the process.

“Had I done so, as requested by Alex Salmond, it would – as Mr Hamilton observes – ‘undoubtedly have been seen as a partisan and political interference’ which ‘would undoubtedly have undermined public confidence in the processes of government to a much greater extent than in fact eventually happened’.

“James Hamilton was appointed by Mr Salmond as an independent adviser on the Scottish Ministerial Code. He has previously investigated a Labour First Minister of Wales, and he has applied himself to this task with rigour and diligence.  Mr Hamilton is an internationally renowned legal professional with impeccable credentials and no one should seek to suggest or imply that he has acted anything other than independently and utterly without fear or favour.

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“Now that this investigation is complete and its conclusions public, I will continue to devote all of my time and energy to leading Scotland, to helping the country through the pandemic, and to ensuring that as we rebuild from the hardships of the last twelve months, we do everything we can to protect jobs, support our health service and rebuild our communities for the better.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: "I want to thank Mr Hamilton for his thorough and impartial assessment of the facts. 

"People can read the report for themselves, but the rigour and independence of his investigation is clear.

“This report is the formal outcome of the self-referral under the Ministerial Code made by the First Minister on 13 January 2019.

"I hope that everyone will now accept that Mr Hamilton’s conclusions are comprehensive and evidence-based.”

His definitive ruling comes on top of a separate finding by the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair, which found Ms Sturgeon misled it, and hence misled parliament.

Ms Sturgeon's office dismissed the Holyrood inquiry verdict, leaked last week ahead of publication tomorrow, as partisan smears.

Mr Hamilton’s report strengthens her position enormously, as he has no political axe to grind.

His findings come ahead of a Tory-led vote of no confidence on Wednesday, which now appears doomed to fail.

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Ministers who breach the ministerial code by knowingly misleading parliament are expected to resign.

In the introduction to the current edition, published in 2018, the First Minister promised she would “lead by example in following the letter and spirit” of the ethics rules.

The Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair is looking at how the Scottish Government bungled a sexual misconduct probe into claims made against him in 2018.

The former First Minister had the exercise overturned in a judicial review at the Court of Session, showing it had been “tainted by apparent bias” from the outset.

The Government’s mistakes left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for his legal costs.

After the Government’s defence finally collapsed in January 2019, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs she had had three meetings and two phone calls with Mr Salmond while he was under investigation by her officials between April and July 2018.

She said she only learned of the complaint against him at the first of these contacts, a meeting at her Glasgow home on April 2, 2018.

However she later admitted she had learned of the issue at a meeting four days earlier with Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, in her Holyrood office.

She claimed she had forgotten about this earlier meeting, despite the explosive content, because it had been a busy day at the parliament.

She also insisted to MSPs, both in the chamber and on the inquiry, that she had not intervened  when Mr Salmond asked to have the complaints quietly resolved by mediation.

She said in her written evidence that she had been very clear with him on the point, and would let the inquiry run its course, not intervene or compromise it on an old friend’s behalf.

However other witnesses, including former SNP MS Duncan Hamilton QC, who was acting as Mr Salmond’s lawyer at the April 2 meeting, contradicted Ms Sturgeon

Mr Hamilton, an officer of the court, said Ms Sturgeon did offer to intervene, although she later changed her mind.

On a 5-4 vote last week, the MSPs on the inquiry preferred the evidence from Mr Hamilton and others and concluded Ms Sturgeon had given an “inaccurate account” of her actions.