PERHAPS, on reflection, the Conservatives should have consulted the seminal work on constitutional theory and practice before demanding the immediate departure of the First Minister.

I refer, of course, to that apogee of political strategy, Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll depicts the Queen of Hearts as insisting upon “sentence first, verdict afterwards” in the trial of the knave. Alice and others demur. It does not end well.

This week Nicola Sturgeon countered the Conservatives by accusing them of doing just that. Demanding her head before they heard her evidence, all eight hours of it.

The snag lay with tactics. This onslaught against the FM, before the hearing, deterred the other parties and measurably strengthened Ms Sturgeon’s position.

Those other parties seemed reasonably content while the cry was “deputy heads must roll”. They were ready to declare no confidence in John Swinney to prise further legal documents from the Scottish Government. But they were less willing to demand Ms Sturgeon’s defenestration before her defence.

READ MORE BRIAN TAYLOR: This is not a civil war in the SNP. This is more vicious and more visceral

And after? Let us be clear. Nicola Sturgeon’s performance throughout her marathon committee hearing was deftly executed; thorough, respectful, controlled and capable.

She displayed emotion, but not too much. She essayed ironic smiles; even a little light banter. Above all, she provided answers: not sufficient answers for her critics but, to use the phrase of the moment, “a stateable case”.

Plus no slips. No suggestion that she was in any way querying the verdict in Alex Salmond’s criminal trial. Mr Salmond was acquitted beyond question.

She even appeared to suggest at one point that she could understand, in part, his desire to seek redress for what he feels were egregious wrongs. Just as Mr Salmond made clear that he was not demanding Ms Sturgeon’s resignation.

However, rapprochement only goes so far. Mr Salmond attacked by proxy, criticising virtually every key member of Ms Sturgeon’s coterie in party and government, with the possible exception of her official driver. Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon averred solemnly that Mr Salmond’s behaviour had been inappropriate and challenged him to apologise.

So is that it? Is she, with one bound, free? Not so, not so.

Let us consider the issues arising. Firstly, the challenge of a cover-up. Among MSPs, there is indignation, some genuine, some contrived, at the sluggish government response to the demand for Judicial Review documents, particularly external legal advice.

The Herald:

It is possible to acknowledge that, while also noting that every government, of every political complexion, has protected legal advice for the very good reason that lawyers would not feel able to give full and frank counsel if they knew or suspected that each polished phrase would be published.

In 2012, as First Minister, Alex Salmond declined to publish legal advice about an independent Scotland’s potential position within the European Union. He told the BBC’s Andrew Neil that he could not disclose such material.

It subsequently emerged that such guidance was limited to general comments “in terms of the debate”, as he put it. Mr Salmond was vigorously defended at the time by Nicola Sturgeon who said “any fair-minded person” would understand his comments, in context.

So every government protects legal advice. But, having made the concession in principle, in the face of a Parliamentary confidence motion, should Scottish Ministers not have got on with publication in practice?

Instead, they have delivered an iterative succession of pages, day by day, like a reluctant gambler dealing a poker hand in slow motion.

In reality, these complaints will be subsumed by the eventual outcome of all this. So how about talk of a conspiracy? Not sure that flies, either, at least in respect of the FM.

In their dossier, the Tories say they do not rely upon such theories. Certainly, Ms Sturgeon dismisses such talk, including within the upper echelons of the SNP. Party officers, she insists, were co-operating with the police, not pursuing a fishing expedition against Mr Salmond.

Either way, this does not appear to land upon Ms Sturgeon’s shoulders. So how about the “secret meeting” with Alex Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, three days before the talks with Mr Salmond himself to discuss the allegations against him?

Certainly, Ms Sturgeon’s amnesia about this earlier chat appears mystifying. I expect she now wishes she had disclosed it more quickly, or corrected the Parliamentary record.

But ask yourself this. Cui bono? In whose interests? What did she stand to gain from claimed secrecy? In practice, nothing. Likewise, she says she did not minute the talks with Mr Salmond for fear of encouraging civil servants to act too eagerly on his behalf, which she was not ready to do.

READ MORE: Prince Philip: Is the health scare much ado about nothing? Let’s hope so

Once again, these answers will in no way placate critics – but they are, at least, arguable. They may point towards a Not Proven verdict on these points.

The leak, then, of a complainer’s name? Ms Sturgeon is adamant this did not come from her, or her team, suggesting that Mr Salmond already knew one name and searched another on social media.

Finally, the procedure for handling harassment complaints and the conduct of the Judicial Review case, brought by Mr Salmond. Here, official endeavours have been calamitous from beginning to end.

The complaints against Mr Salmond were lamentably mishandled, with an Investigating Officer who had indefensible prior contact with the complainers. Internal documents were supplied sporadically and late to the government’s own external legal team.

Then the key accusation from critics; that the government persisted with the case when it was palpably failing, costing the public purse.

Nicola Sturgeon is the head of that government, responsible for all its actions. But is she culpable? The procedure was enacted by civil servants and, ultimately, she pursued the case on the advice of her law officers, while taking account of grave concerns voiced by external counsel.

READ MORE: Salmond inquiry: Most Scots still trust Nicola Sturgeon, by Rebecca McQuillan

On these latter points, the committee may be unable to reach any consensus. The significant verdict may come from James Hamilton QC who will rule on whether she broke the Ministerial code.

These we await. For now, after a successful hearing, Nicola Sturgeon remains decidedly First Minister, free to focus on other matters – and to envisage, if she cares, six impossible things before breakfast.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.