NICOLA Sturgeon will today discuss the mounting crisis over Alex Salmond with the SNP leadership as she faces growing pressure to refer herself to watchdogs over a series of secret contacts with her predecessor.

The First Minister will address the party’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) following the collapse of a Scottish Government investigation into Mr Salmond.

It comes as Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard issued an ultimatum calling for Ms Sturgeon to refer herself to an independent panel within “a matter of days” amid claims she broke the ministerial code.

The deepening row is expected to come up at the SNP’s monthly NEC meeting in Glasgow today.

Among those due to attend is MP Joanna Cherry QC, who earlier this week “liked” a tweet expressing support for Mr Salmond’s return as party leader.

Ms Sturgeon faced a barrage of criticism during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday after it emerged she took two months to disclose a meeting with Mr Salmond while he was being investigated by the Scottish Government for alleged sexual harassment, which he denies.

Mr Leonard said she had “days rather than weeks” to refer herself to watchdogs before his party pushed for a Holyrood committee inquiry into the issue. 

He told the BBC: “If she self-refers then in a sense that starts that process off. If she refuses to self-refer, then I think Parliament will try to take matters into its own hands.”

The Scottish Tories insisted Ms Sturgeon also faced serious questions over why she chose to meet Mr Salmond again just weeks before the claims against him were made public.

Two women lodged complaints about Mr Salmond dating back to his time as First Minister in January last year, sparking a Scottish Government investigation.

In line with procedures, Ms Sturgeon was unaware of this probe until Mr Salmond requested a meeting which took place at her home in Glasgow on April 2. During this, her predecessor revealed he was under investigation and raised concerns about the process.

But it wasn’t until a day before a further meeting with Mr Salmond in Aberdeen on June 7 that Ms Sturgeon wrote to the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans, to tell her of the contact.

Ms Sturgeon met Mr Salmond again on July 14 at her home in Glasgow, while there were also phone calls in April and July.

The First Minister is now facing intense pressure to refer herself to independent watchdogs amid claims she broke the ministerial code by not initially disclosing the contact.

Meanwhile, Scottish Tory interim leader Jackson Carlaw said the “total lack of transparency” surrounding the five contacts demonstrated why a Holyrood inquiry was also necessary.

He said: “As we have seen this week, Nicola Sturgeon’s case simply doesn’t stack up. She claims she told Mr Salmond in April last year that she would not get involved in this matter.

“If that was the case, why did she carry on taking phone calls and having meetings with him to discuss the matter? In particular, the First Minister needs to come clean on her bizarre decision to hold a Saturday summit with Mr Salmond at her home in July.

“This took place only weeks before the investigation was completed. She can’t claim she was ambushed by Mr Salmond. They’d already spoken three times at this point. So why did she hold this meeting?”

He added: “The SNP cannot continue to sweep this matter under the carpet and patronise the public by claiming it’s all a matter for the SNP.

“It isn’t. Two Scottish Government employees have been let down, £500,000 of taxpayers’ money has been wasted, and the SNP administration’s competence is up for question.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also signalled his party could back a Holyrood probe, despite initial reluctance over concerns it would take attention away from a separate police investigation.

Mr Salmond won a judicial review against the Government he once led on Tuesday after it admitted its investigation into him was fundamentally flawed.

He condemned it as a “botched mess” which had left the taxpayer with a £500,000 legal bill, and has now reported the Government to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office over concerns details of the case were leaked to the press.

The row has exposed growing rifts in the SNP, with some parliamentarians openly criticising the investigation.

Ms Sturgeon’s chief of staff Liz Lloyd was also dragged into the crisis after it emerged she had set up the initial meeting.

One senior SNP source described the situation as “an absolute farce”, adding: “People assume the top staff are really polished. But a lot of them are just flunkies and bag carriers.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said Ms Sturgeon “was clear to Mr Salmond that she had no role in the process and would not intervene”.