“Under Starmer it has been two steps forward and one step back,” said Mr. Fielding, “and he hasn’t addressed the problem of how you win back the red wall without losing metropolitan liberal voters.”

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Of Brexit and Boris: What’s Driving the Call for Scottish Independence

The millions of votes counted across Scotland on Saturday could be among the most consequential in recent times, and not because of their impact on things like health, education and fisheries. The greatest issue facing the country, and the one that was really at stake, was nowhere to be found on the ballot, and that is the future of its 314-year-old union with England.

While the last votes were still being counted on Saturday in the parliamentary elections, it appeared virtually certain that the pro-independence Scottish National Party would fall short of the majority it had hoped would create an irresistible momentum for a new referendum on breaking away from the United Kingdom. But it will retain power in Edinburgh, probably with the support of the Scottish Greens, guaranteeing that the issue will continue to dominate Scottish politics, as it has in recent years.

A lot. A second independence plebiscite, following one in 2014, could lead to the fracturing of the United Kingdom. Were Scotland to become independent, Britain would lose eight percent of its population, a third of its landmass and significant amounts of international prestige.

Some say the loss of Scotland would be the biggest blow to a British prime minister since Lord North lost the colonies in America in the 18th century. Understandably, the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, is no fan of the idea.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister. Her party has led the Scottish government for 14 years and she has earned praise for her steady handling of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly compared with the early performance of Mr. Johnson.

There are smaller parties that want another vote, too, like the Greens, who are close to the S.N.P. Another pro-independence party, Alba, is led by Alex Salmond, who is not an ally of Ms. Sturgeon — at least not any more. A former first minister himself, Mr. Salmond was once Ms. Sturgeon’s mentor, but the two have recently been embroiled in a bitter feud, and his election campaign fell flat.

Re-established in 1999, Scotland’s Parliament was designed to quiet calls for Scottish independence, but it hasn’t worked out like that. The pro-independence S.N.P. has become the dominant force and, in 2011, won a rare overall majority in a Parliament where the voting system is designed to avoid any one party’s domination. After that result, the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron reluctantly agreed to the 2014 independence referendum.

Ms. Sturgeon had been hoping that a thumping victory for the pro-independence parties in these elections would give her the moral authority to demand another plebiscite. They fell short, but Ms. Sturgeon will keep up pressure for a referendum claiming that, combined with the vote for the Greens, she has a mandate.

They show a divided Scotland, split down the middle over independence. That is in line with the findings of opinion polls that last year showed a majority favoring independence only to fall back slightly in recent months. The Scottish Conservatives, the opposition Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats all oppose independence.

So dominant is the issue that some anti-independence voters seem to have switched allegiance from their normal parties to support the one most likely to defeat the S.N.P. in their area. Ms. Sturgeon is on course to remain first minister, which is an impressive achievement, but with her path to an overall majority likely cut off, her moral case for a second referendum has been weakened.

For a second independence referendum to be legal it would almost certainly need the agreement of London, and Mr. Johnson has repeatedly said no. That’s a big problem for Ms. Sturgeon, because she wants the result of any second referendum to be accepted internationally and for Scotland to be allowed to return to the European Union.

Far from it. Even if she has to rely on the Greens, Ms. Sturgeon is likely to have enough votes to push legislation for “indyref2” through the Scottish Parliament and then challenge Mr. Johnson or his allies to stop it in court.

That could cause a constitutional crisis. After all, Scotland’s union with England in 1707 was voluntary, making it hard for London to say no forever to another referendum. And Ms. Sturgeon may calculate that support for independence will only grow if Scots see the popular will being blocked by a government in England.

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Scotland Election Results Complicate Hopes for Independence Referendum

LONDON — Hopes for a swift path to independence in Scotland were dampened on Saturday, as early election results showed the dominant Scottish nationalist party falling just short of a majority in the country’s parliament.

The results, if confirmed after the votes are fully counted by Saturday evening, would deprive the Scottish National Party of a symbolic victory in a closely-fought election. That, in turn, is likely to stiffen the determination of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain to deny Scottish voters the chance to hold a second referendum on independence.

Yet pro-independence parties were on track to stay in overall control, which will keep the flame of Scottish nationalism alive and ensure that the threat of Scotland’s breaking away will continue to bedevil the United Kingdom.

The number of seats won by the Scottish National Party in the election, held on Thursday, is in some ways less important than the political winds, which are still blowing in favor of the separatists. By allying with the pro-independence Scottish Greens, the Scottish nationalists could tighten their control over the regional Parliament.

a bitter feud with her predecessor, Alex Salmond, over a botched internal investigation of sexual misconduct charges against him. She was accused of deceiving lawmakers, breaking rules and even conspiring against Mr. Salmond, a former close ally.

Ms. Sturgeon was cleared of breaching the rules and misleading Parliament just as the campaign got underway, but the dispute dented her image. Mr. Salmond launched a breakaway party, Alba, which did not appear on track to win any seats but served as a reminder of the internecine split.

“This year has been quite difficult for the S.N.P. and for Nicola Sturgeon personally,” Professor McEwen said. Also, she added, “The broad shoulders of the U.K. have helped see us through the pandemic.”

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U.K. Conservatives Win Hartlepool Parliament Seat

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain scored a striking political victory on Friday when his Conservative Party snatched a bellwether parliamentary seat from the opposition Labour Party, which had held it since the constituency’s creation in the 1970s.

In a by-election in Hartlepool, in the northeast of England, the Conservative candidate, Jill Mortimer, easily defeated her rivals, consolidating Mr. Johnson’s earlier successes in winning over voters in working-class areas that had traditionally sided mainly with Labour.

Better still for the prime minister, the vote on Thursday came after days of publicity over claims that he broke electoral rules over the financing of an expensive refurbishment of his apartment.

That appeared to have counted for little with voters in Hartlepool, an economically struggling coastal town, when the results were announced Friday morning after an overnight count.

after a successful vaccination program for which Mr. Johnson has been able to claim credit.

Though not unexpected, the outcome underscored the extent to which Mr. Johnson is rewriting Britain’s electoral map and dealt a blow to Keir Starmer, Labour’s leader. Mr. Starmer took over from Jeremy Corbyn last year after Labour’s defeat in the December 2019 general election, its worst performance in more than 80 years.

That landslide election victory for the Conservatives in 2019 followed the crisis over Britain’s exit from the European Union, and Mr. Johnson scored well in many traditional working-class communities with his appeal to voters to give him the power to “get Brexit done.”

Though Britain has now completed its European Union withdrawal, and the issue is fading somewhat, the new Conservative victory suggests that Mr. Johnson remains popular in areas — like Hartlepool — that voted for Brexit in a 2016 referendum.

Collectively known as the “red wall,” because they were once heartlands of the Labour Party, these areas are being targeted by Mr. Johnson who has promised to “level up” by bringing prosperity to the north and middle of England, and to areas that feel forgotten.

Elections also took place on Thursday in Scotland and those could present a bigger threat to Mr. Johnson. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who leads the pro-independence Scottish National Party, is hoping for a strong performance that she can use to justify her call for a new referendum on whether Scotland should break away from the United Kingdom.

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Scottish Election Could Boost Independence Movement

If the pro-independence vote surges in Thursday’s elections for the Scottish Parliament, momentum for an another referendum on independence may become unstoppable.


It has weathered the conquest and loss of an empire, survived two world wars and witnessed more than one deadly pandemic. But now Scotland’s ancient alliance with England is itself in poor health and on Thursday it could take a serious turn for the worse.

When Scottish voters go to the polls to elect 129 members of Scotland’s Parliament , strictly speaking the question of independence will not be on the ballot.

Yet, as these photos vividly illustrate, Scotland is grappling with an uncertain future. Pressure is growing for a second referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom, breaking up a 314-year-old union. If Scots vote in sufficient numbers for pro-independence parties in Thursday’s election, the momentum for another plebiscite could become unstoppable.

shellfish catches spoiled and boats tied up in harbors.

Both sides of the debate see lessons in that. The pro-independence Scottish National Party, led by the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, points to the economic damage and says she would aim to rejoin the European Union after breaking away from England. In so doing Scotland could make a success of independence like other small nations like Ireland, which took that step a century ago.

Her critics say that this would pile more economic misery on top of Brexit by destroying the common economic market with England, easily Scotland’s biggest trading partner. It would probably also mean a physical trade border between England and Scotland, a frontier that is in some places hard even to spot.

Nonetheless, the 2016 Brexit referendum showed that appeals to emotion can trump those to the wallet. In Scotland identity issues have grown within a proud nation that always maintained a separate, some would say superior, legal and educational system.

Ms. Sturgeon’s S.N.P. is aiming for a rare overall majority in the Scottish Parliament to justify her calls for a second independence referendum. Failing that, she hopes that votes for other pro-independence parties, especially the Greens, will be enough to bolster her case.

Support for independence in opinion polls peaked last year at above 50 percent while Ms. Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic looked sure-footed at a time when Mr. Johnson’s seemed chaotic.

But the successful rollout the Covid-19 vaccine — for which Mr. Johnson can take credit — has coincided with a slight dip in Ms. Sturgeon’s fortunes. Also campaigning in Thursday election is Alex Salmond, a veteran of the pro-independence cause but now a sworn enemy of Ms. Sturgeon who was once his protégé. The two politicians fell out over Ms. Sturgeon’s role in a bungled investigation into allegations against Mr. Salmond of sexual misconduct.

After months of feuding with her former mentor, Ms. Sturgeon survived a damaging crisis but Mr. Salmond has formed a new pro-independence party, Alba.

There are domestic issues at stake too and, after 14 years in power in Edinburgh, the S.N.P. has many critics in Scotland. In TV debates Ms. Sturgeon has been forced to defend her record on everything ranging from educational achievement to Scotland’s poor record on drug deaths.

In the Shetland Islands some voters feel as remote from Ms. Sturgeon’s government in Edinburgh as from Mr. Johnson’s in London, and there is even talk of the islands opting for independence from Scotland.

On the mainland the mood is uncertainty. For Ms. Sturgeon tough questions lie ahead about whether an independent Scotland could afford the sort of social policies she favors without the support of taxpayers in England or their central bank.

Noticeably absent from these photos is Mr. Johnson, who has stayed away from Scotland, knowing that his presence would probably undercut the Conservative Party’s pitch to preserve the union. Educated at Britain’s most famous high school, Eton College, and then Oxford University, Mr. Johnson’s cultivated English upper-class persona tends to grate on Scottish voters.

Despite his absence the stakes are for high for Mr. Johnson. The loss of Scotland would deprive the United Kingdom of about a third of its landmass and significant international prestige.

It would also likely mean the closure of the Faslane nuclear submarine base that the S.N.P. opposes, believing its location makes the nearby city of Glasgow a military target.

Were Mr. Johnson to lose a Scottish independence referendum, he would probably have to resign, and his strategy so far has simply been to reject calls for one. For a plebiscite to be legally binding an agreement almost certainly would have to first be struck with London, and the prime minister can continue to stonewall for some time.

But whatever the law, it’s hard to say no indefinitely. And a centuries-old union could face its greatest test if a majority in Scotland, which joined voluntarily with England in 1707, thinks now is the time to think again.

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U.K. Vote Is Likely to Back Boris Johnson, and an Independent Scotland

LONDON — For an ordinary politician, heading into midterm elections on an unsavory plume of scandal over cellphone contacts with billionaires and a suspiciously funded apartment makeover might seem like the recipe for a thumping. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain is not an ordinary politician.

As voters in the country go to the polls on Thursday — with regional and local elections that have been swollen by races postponed from last year because of the pandemic — Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party stands to make gains against a Labour Party that has struggled to make the ethical accusations against him stick.

Far from humbling a wayward prime minister, the elections could extend a realignment in British politics that began in 2019 when the Conservative Party won a landslide general election victory. That would put the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, on the back foot and ratify Mr. Johnson’s status as a kind of political unicorn.

“No politician in the democratic West can escape the consequences of political gravity forever, but Boris Johnson has shown a greater capacity to do it than most,” said Tony Travers, a professor of politics at the London School of Economics. “People see his behavior as evidence of his authenticity.”

defeated in 2014.

emphatically behind a new campaign for Scottish independence.

In the English elections, the big prize is Hartlepool, a struggling northern port city and Labour bastion where a new poll suggests that the Conservatives could win a bellwether seat in a parliamentary by-election. The Tories could make further inroads in other Labour cities and towns in the industrial Midlands and North, where they picked off dozens of seats in 2019, running on Mr. Johnson’s promise to “Get Brexit Done.”

The prime minister did get Brexit done, as of last January. Yet while the split with the European Union brought predicted chaos in shipments of British seafood and higher customs fees on European goods, its effects have been eclipsed by the pandemic — a twist that ended up working to the government’s benefit.

Although the pandemic began as a negative story for Mr. Johnson, with a dilatory response to the first wave of infections that left Britain with the highest death toll in Europe, it turned around with the nation’s rapid rollout of vaccines.

who picked up the initial bill for the upgrade of his apartment and why he was texting the billionaire James Dyson about the tax status of his employees, when the two were discussing a plan for Mr. Dyson’s company to manufacture ventilators.

But there is little evidence that voters are particularly surprised or concerned that Mr. Johnson does not play by the rules. As political commentators have taken to saying this week, the prime minister’s behavior is “priced in.”

The same is not true of Scottish independence. Analysts say Mr. Johnson’s government is not prepared for the wall of pressure it will face if the Scottish National Party wins a majority. The last time the party achieved that, in 2011, Britain’s then-prime minister, David Cameron, yielded to demands for a referendum. In 2014, Scots voted against leaving Britain by 55 percent to 44 percent.

Polls now put the split at roughly 50-50, after a stretch in which the pro-independence vote was solidly above 50 percent. Analysts attribute the slight softening of support to both the vaccine rollout, which showed the merits of staying in the union, as well as an ugly political dispute within Scottish nationalist ranks.

Mr. Johnson holds a trump card of sorts. To be legally binding, an independence referendum would almost certainly have to gain the assent of the British government, so the prime minister can simply say no and hope the problem goes away. But that strategy can work for only so long before becoming untenable.

“I don’t see any way in the world that Boris Johnson turns around the day after the election and says, ‘OK, you can have a referendum,’” said Nicola McEwen, a professor of politics at the University of Edinburgh.

And yet the calls could only grow. “If they manage to peel off a single-party majority,” she said, “it does put pressure on the U.K. to answer the question, ‘If a democratic vote isn’t a mandate for independence, then what is?’”

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U.K.’s Johnson on the Defensive as Ethical Questions Mount

LONDON — The ethical allegations swirling around Prime Minister Boris Johnson got more serious on Wednesday after Britain’s Electoral Commission announced it would open a formal investigation into whether Mr. Johnson secretly used political donations to refurbish his apartment in Downing Street.

The commission said it found “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offense or offenses may have occurred.” Mr. Johnson is accused of using funds from a Conservative Party donor to supplement the budget for upgrading his official quarters, which are above the offices at 11 Downing Street.

Mr. Johnson insisted he paid for the refurbishment out of his own pocket, but he has not disclosed whether he repaid a donation made to the Conservative Party once the accusations surfaced. He is entitled to £30,000 ($41,600) a year in public funds to decorate his apartment, but apparently concluded that budget was inadequate.

The news of a formal investigation raised the political stakes for Mr. Johnson, who has been engaged in an ugly exchange of charges and countercharges with his disaffected former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings. In Parliament on Wednesday, Mr. Johnson seemed uncharacteristically rattled and angry.

tough questioning from the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, the prime minister said, “I have paid for the Downing Street refurbishment personally.” He said he would make more disclosures about the financing if an independent adviser just appointed by the government deemed it necessary.

“I conformed in full with the code of conduct and officials have kept advising me through this whole thing,” Mr. Johnson said.

Questions about the prime minister’s apartment makeover are only one of multiple issues dogging him as his government has become bogged down in an ethical quagmire. He is also accused of making callous statements about imposing another lockdown and giving wealthy businesspeople unusual access.

Mr. Johnson denied news reports that he told aides last fall he would rather let “the bodies pile high in their thousands” than impose a third lockdown. But he acknowledged that he had expressed deep frustration, saying “they were very bitter, very difficult decisions for any prime minister.”

government’s successful rollout of coronavirus vaccines, which he predicted voters would reward in regional elections on May 6.

He defended his contacts with a British billionaire, James Dyson, over his company’s emergency manufacturing of ventilator machines in the early days of the pandemic, noting that Mr. Dyson, whose company is known for making high-end vacuums, said this week that the two men were not close.

Still, the cloud of allegations kept Mr. Johnson on the defensive, with a succession of lawmakers accusing him of deflecting, dissembling or worse.

“Are you a liar, Mr. Prime Minister?” said the parliamentary leader of the Scottish National Party, Ian Blackford, drawing a slap on the wrist from the speaker of the House of Commons, who said the question was “unsavory.”

Mr. Starmer, a former crown prosecutor, tried to pin down Mr. Johnson on specific points regarding the refurbishment, noting that ministers who knowingly utter untrue statements in the House are obliged to resign.

He pressed Mr. Johnson about who paid the initial invoice for the work on the apartment, and asked him to respond to a report that a wealthy Conservative Party donor, David Brownlow, had contributed £58,000 ($80,000), which was used to pay for part of the upgrade.

Mr. Johnson declined to address either point, repeating only that he paid for the refurbishment. He tried to turn the attack back on the opposition, claiming that it was ignoring public health and economic issues that ordinary people care about in favor of frivolous questions about interior decoration.

“He goes on and on about wallpaper, which as I’ve told him umpteen times, ‘I paid for,’” Mr. Johnson said, gesticulating angrily.

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U.K. Government, Sensing an Opportunity, Wraps Itself in the Flag

LONDON — It started last week when the host of the BBC’s morning show mocked a cabinet minister, Robert Jenrick, for the Union Jack hanging conspicuously behind him, next to a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The flag, the host cracked, was not “up to standard-size government interview measurements.”

The host, Charlie Stayt, and his co-host, Naga Munchetty, who chuckled along, were quickly in hot water. After the BBC came under fire for disrespecting the British flag, both were reprimanded. Ms. Munchetty apologized for liking “offensive” Twitter posts that joined in the mockery of the minister’s flag.

Never one to duck a culture-war skirmish, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has seized on the flag flap to try to keep opponents on the defensive and the dissolution of the United Kingdom at bay.

On Wednesday, it decreed that, henceforth, the Union Jack should fly on all government buildings every day of the year, rather than simply on designated days. The only exception will be regional holidays when, say, the Scottish flag, the Saltire, would fly in Scotland on St. Andrew’s Day.

revised guidance on flags, noted that in the United States, the Stars and Stripes flies year-round, not just on federal buildings but also at schools and in front of polling places. Likewise in Australia, the national flag can be flown every day of the year from federal and state parliaments.

Britons tend to be less demonstrative about their flag than the citizens of their former colonies. Unlike Americans, they rarely hang it in front of their homes. The Union Jack arouses ambivalent emotions among some on the left, who associate it with Britain’s imperial past, and in parts of the United Kingdom, particularly Scotland, where pro-independence feelings run strong.

That, of course, is precisely the point for a government that is desperate to avert another referendum on independence for Scotland after elections there in May in which the Scottish National Party is expected to win a strong mandate.

was taken to task by a Conservative lawmaker, James Wild, for not publishing an image of the Union Jack in the broadcaster’s 268-page annual report.

“Do you find that surprising?” Mr. Wild asked, to which Mr. Davie replied, “No, I think that’s a strange metric.”

A former marketing executive who was chosen because of his ability to get along with the government, Mr. Davie pointed out that the BBC promotes Britain worldwide. The Union Jack, he said, flew proudly from its London headquarters.

Critics on Twitter lost no time lampooning the new reverence for the flag. They coined an off-color hashtag and attributed it to unhealthy nationalism, post-Brexit insecurity or cynical politics.

“This may be very ‘20th Century’ of me,” posted Simon Fraser, formerly the senior civil servant at the Foreign Office, “but I do worry when politicians start getting obsessive about flags.”

he posted.

Clare Hepworth, a trade unionist, quoted Bill Moyers, a broadcaster and former aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who once said of politicians who brandish flags, “They’re counting on your patriotism to distract you from their plunder.”

And, of course, it was another Johnson, Samuel, who in the 18th century famously said, “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

At a time when the government is winning broad public support for its coronavirus vaccine rollout — the country’s largest mass mobilization since World War II — a manufactured row over flags might seem unnecessary.

proposing to air two beloved patriotic songs without their lyrics because they evoked a colonial past that is at odds with the values of the Black Lives Matter movement.

outfitted at a reported cost of 2.6 million pounds, or about $3.5 million. He will be flanked by no fewer than four Union Jacks.

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Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon Did Not Break Rules, Inquiry Says

LONDON — Scotland’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, did not knowingly breach official rules or mislead the Scottish Parliament about an investigation of her predecessor, an inquiry concluded on Monday, effectively clearing her of allegations so serious that they had sparked calls for her resignation.

The investigation by a senior Irish lawyer, James Hamilton, followed months of infighting over Ms. Sturgeon’s role in a botched internal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct made against Alex Salmond, a former close ally who preceded her as first minister of Scotland.

“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,” Mr. Hamilton’s inquiry concluded, referring to the ethics code under which members of the Scottish government operate.

The report culminates a bitter feud between the two dominant figures of recent Scottish politics, a drama that has dented Ms Sturgeon’s fortunes, prompting accusations that she had deceived lawmakers, broken rules and even conspired against her predecessor.

Opposition politicians had called for Ms. Sturgeon’s resignation, and she was under acute pressure earlier this month, when she gave evidence for eight hours to a parliamentary committee in a separate inquiry into the same events.

Mr. Hamilton’s clear conclusions appear to end any prospect of Ms. Sturgeon quitting and mean that she is likely to survive a no-confidence vote in the Scottish Parliament if one goes ahead this week.

However the crisis has cast a shadow over the push for Scottish independence, as well as Ms. Sturgeon’s career, just as the independence campaign appeared close to a breakthrough.

Buoyed by a succession of opinion polls showing majority support for independence, Ms. Sturgeon was hoping that her Scottish National Party, the largest faction in the Scottish Parliament, would win an overall majority in elections scheduled for May, and then demand a second referendum on whether to break her country’s 314-year-old union with England.

In the 2014 independence referendum, 55 percent of Scottish voters favored remaining within the United Kingdom. But since then, Britain has left the European Union, a deeply unpopular project in Scotland, where 62 percent voted against Brexit in a 2016 referendum.

Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, is not a popular figure in Scotland in contrast to Ms. Sturgeon whose management of the pandemic has won her plaudits.

The infighting among Scottish leaders is all the more remarkable because Ms. Sturgeon was Mr. Salmond’s protégé and served as his deputy for a decade, ultimately succeeding him after his resignation in 2014, when Scotland voted against independence.

Like him, she had a reputation for running the Scottish National Party as a disciplined force in which few public differences were aired in public.

That unity has been blown apart in a bitter rift over the Scottish government’s handling of complaints made against Mr. Salmond in 2018, alleging sexual misconduct in 2013. He argued that the internal processes were flawed, took his case to court and won, forcing the Scottish government to pay out £500,000 — almost $700,000 — in legal costs.

Mr. Salmond, who has admitted to being “no angel” and said he wishes he had been more careful with other people’s personal space, always insisted he did not break the law. When the police prosecuted him, Mr. Salmond was found not guilty on 13 charges of sexual assault including one of attempted rape.

The fallout from that verdict in 2020 has grown into a bewilderingly complicated but intensely personal battle between the former allies.

As in many political scandals, the accusation most damaging to Ms. Sturgeon was of failing to tell the truth — in her case, about the sequence of events during her government’s botched internal investigation into Ms. Salmond’s case.

Misleading Parliament and breaking ministerial rules are normally considered such serious offenses that they lead to calls for resignation.

Ms. Sturgeon has admitted that she did not give the full picture when she said that she had first heard about the allegations against Mr. Salmond on April 2, 2018, during a meeting with him at her home. In fact she had been given some earlier warning by his former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, on March 29, she now acknowledges.

Mr. Salmond contends that, at that stage, Ms. Sturgeon offered to intervene in the case. She denies that, but in a parliamentary committee hearing she conceded that she may not have been blunt enough about not intervening, because of her long friendship with her former mentor.

In his report Mr. Hamilton described Ms. Sturgeon’s failure to mention the earlier meeting as regrettable and something that would be greeted with suspicion, even skepticism, by some.

However he added: “I find it difficult to think of any convincing reason why, if she had in fact recalled the meeting, she would have deliberately concealed it while disclosing all the conversations she had had with Mr. Salmond.”

Mr. Hamilton is a former director of public prosecutions in Ireland, and an independent adviser to the Scottish government on its ministerial code. Parts of his report were redacted, however, prompting complaints from Ms. Sturgeon’s critics.

The parliamentary committee’s report into the same event is expected to be more critical of Ms. Sturgeon but, because its findings are likely to be seen as more influenced by politics, they are unlikely to seriously damage to her.

The committee’s report is scheduled to be published on Tuesday but, according to leaks, opinion among its members appears to have split on party lines, tilting against Ms. Sturgeon by one vote. Last week she dismissed that as a partisan attack.

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