ELECTION watchdogs have hit back at “unusual” claims by a Liberal Democrat MSP that it had concluded an inquiry into disputed spending.

Alex Cole-Hamilton published extracts of an Electoral Commission letter and said there had been no breach of spending rules at the 2016 Holyrood election.

However the Commission said it had never been investigating Mr Cole-Hamilton’s expenses in isolation, but was looking at wider spending by the Scottish LibDems as a party.

It stressed its probe remained ongoing and a "live matter".

A spokesperson said: “We are aware of the comments by Mr Cole-Hamilton.

“However, in line with our regulatory responsibilities the investigation we opened was into the Liberal Democrat Party’s spending return from the 2016 Scottish Parliament election and this investigation has yet to conclude.

“Mr Cole-Hamilton has taken the unusual step of sharing extracts from a letter which the Commission sent to the Liberal Democrats.

“Our investigation is ongoing. We will publish the outcome when it is concluded but until then we have no further comment to make on what is a live matter.”

The intervention followed Mr Cole-Hamilton, the MSP for Edinburgh Western, releasing a statement to the media on Tuesday based on parts of a letter from the Commission.

He quoted a section in which the Commission said it was satisfied there had been “no breaches” in the way he had reported parts of his campaign spending in the seat.

“We queried the apportionments in respect of a number of leaflets that had been distributed in the constituency. In view of the responses to this aspect of the investigation, we are satisfied that there were no breaches in respect of the apportionments,” it said.

However this was only one part of the Commission’s wider probe.

Besides his leaflets, the Commission is also looking at why around £1950 Mr Cole-Hamilton identified as list spending was apparently omitted from the party’s own national return.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said the Commission had “concluded an investigation into my 2016 election spending and found no irregularities with my return”.

He also blamed members of the local SNP for wasting taxpayers’ money on the issue.

An SNP spokesperson said: "What we know is that Alex Cole-Hamilton said in his spending return that some materials were party not local campaign spending.

"Some of these items are not on the Lib Dem’s national campaign return.

Either Alex was wrong or his party was wrong. We await with interest to see what the Electoral Commission thinks.”

The Commission launched its inquiry in February after a member of the public raised concerns about LibDem spending in the Edinburgh Western seat and Lothians region.

Previously safe LibDem turf, Edinburgh Western was won by the SNP in 2011, and the LibDems mounted an intense campaign to regain it in 2016, winning by 2,960 votes.

Mr Cole-Hamilton won after his party exploited an alleged financial scandal around the local SNP MP, Michelle Thomson, and saturated the seat with leaflets and personnel.

However Mr Cole-Hamilton only stayed under the spending cap by attributing thousands of pounds of expenses to the party’s list campaign in the Lothians and to his local branch.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said he spent £32,549 on his constituency campaign, £543 below the limit.

LibDem candidates in Edinburgh’s other five seats spent an average of £924.

Mr Cole-Hamilton’s spending was 75 per cent more than the SNP’s £18,593.

The former charity worker was a “dual candidate”, standing in both a seat and on the list.

The Commission says dual candidates must make an “an honest assessment” of whether their spending promotes their constituency or list campaign, and parties “should not split costs if an item is produced mainly to promote a candidate”.

However many leaflets claimed by the LibDems to be Lothians list spending were heavily skewed towards specific neighbourhoods in Edinburgh Western.

A bill of almost £1000 for 38,500 copies of the “West Edinburgh News” was attributed 39 per cent to the list fight and only 61 per cent to the constituency battle.

Thousands of pounds of office costs were also split 60:30:10 between the seat, list and local party, while leaflets, deliveries and stationery were divided in a myriad of ratios between the constituency and list fights, including 50:50, 75:25, 80:20 and 88:12.

Mr Cole-Hamilton also claimed on his return he spent more on tea and biscuits than renting a shared office, spending £180 on the former and £83.45, or 68p a day, on the latter.

The Crown Office said earlier this year that he would not be prosecuted after a police inquiry into his spending.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: "I released the paragraphs concerning the investigation into my campaign in Edinburgh Western which has been concluded.

“As the Electoral Commission comment makes clear a query regarding the national return remains ongoing.

“This is an issue that has been hanging over me for some time and I was relieved that the Electoral Commission are satisfied there were no breaches concerning Edinburgh Western.

“In light of the concern from the Electoral Commission that it was 'unusual' to release paragraphs from the letter I accept their point and will not release anything further.”