THE row over alleged Holyrood witness tampering has taken an ominous turn for John Swinney, after MSPs refused to accept his assurance that there was no wrongdoing.

The Education Secretary has now been asked for a breakdown of all contacts between his officials and witnesses who testified to the parliament's education committee about the Named Person’s scheme.

Information released under freedom of information revealed his civil servants had regularly set up meetings with key witnesses just days before they were due to discuss the subject.

It led to claims Mr Swinney’s department was systematically lobbying witnesses to minimise criticism of the controversial plan to give every child a state guardian.

Some MSPs on the committee believe witnesses watered down their oral testimony as a result, after being more critical in their advance written testimony.

The Named Person’s law is being revised after the UK Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that some of its provisions, designed to allow state agencies to share data to safeguard a child’s well-being, breached human rights on privacy and family life.

Remedial legislation is now going through Holyrood, but its implementation remains unclear, with a draft code of practice also criticised by MSPs.

After the education committee asked Mr Swinney last month to explain contacts between his officials and witnesses he sent MSPs a one-page response on February 6.

The deputy First Minister defended the approaches, saying it was “good practice to engage widely with stakeholders in the preparation of legislation”.

But MSPs felt this “did not fully address all of the matters”, and have now asked Mr Swinney for a comprehensive list of all contacts, what was discussed and why.

In a letter to the Education Secretary, SNP convener James Dornan said witnesses should not be given assurances about policy changes before the committee.

He said: “To give Parliament its place, any assurances offered to witnesses by the Government on ways in which policies will be changed or supplemented should be raised with the relevant committee first.

“This must be the case as this Committee moves forward with scrutiny of the Bill, anything less than this could be considered a slight on this Committee.

“The Committee will not be able to question witnesses fully or assess the policy effectively without full and timely sight of the Government’s intentions.”

Scottish Labour education spokesperson Iain Gray MSP said: “The beleaguered Education Secretary has been caught red handed resorting to secrecy and strong arm tactics to try and shore up his failing policies and hide his mismanagement of the education system.

“John Swinney was supposed to be a safe pair of hands, but has completely failed to get a grip of the education portfolio, and seems increasingly panicky.”

LibDem MSP Tavish Scott added: "When reports first emerged suggesting that the Education Secretary had nobbled witnesses set to appear before the committee, he was given a chance to offer his side of the story.

"Unfortunately his curt response was not good enough.

"The minister now has a further opportunity to answer detailed questions. Parliament will expect him to do exactly that.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As is entirely right and proper, the Scottish Government engaged with stakeholders throughout the passage of the Information Sharing Bill and we will continue to do so in the development of supporting materials, such as the Code of Practice and guidance.

“This is to ensure that those affected by developing law and policy are well informed, their concerns are heard and that they can be involved and influence changes that will affect them. We will consider the Education and Skills Committee’s letter and respond shortly.”