THE lockdown is finally over. Restrictions are being lifted. Excursions previously ruled off limits are now safely within reach. A new vista of possibilities stretches out across the summer.

I refer, of course, not to the latest chicanes in Scotland’s route map to normality, but to the opening of the Pandora’s Box that is the Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair.

This has been lurking in the background as a somewhat abstract threat for the best part of 18 months, but is now about to get all too real for Nicola Sturgeon and her party.

If the coronavirus abates, when the inquiry starts its first evidence sessions in August, it will be one of the biggest stories around, with the looming Holyrood election giving it extra bite.

It’s been easy to forget amid the Covid crisis just how big a moment this could be for Scottish politics.

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But after it held its first public session since Mr Salmond’s trial this week, and set out its plans, it is clear it could be altogether extraordinary.

The most durable government and most successful party since devolution is about to go under the microscope in a truly unprecedented way.

The main event will naturally be long-postponed showdown between the current First Minister and her estranged predecessor, an epic grudge match rank with recriminations.

Opposition parties also hope years of cosy practices and blurred lines between government business and party politics will be dragged into the open for the electorate to see.

There is also the question of whether Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code to consider.

To recap, this is not about Mr Salmond’s recent trial and acquittal on sexual assault charges, at least not directly.

The Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, to give it is full name, will look at the events leading up to the court case, not re-litigate it.

Its focus is the scandal which came before the criminal investigation, the one which saw Mr Salmond resign from the SNP and shattered his relationship with Ms Sturgeon.

In late 2017, after the #MeToo movement exploded and Mark McDonald quit as the SNP children’s minister over sleazy texts, the Scottish Government created a new procedure for harassment complaints about “current or former ministers”.

Within weeks, two female civil servants raised complaints about Mr Salmond, and an internal government investigation began under the Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans.

When, in August 2018, Ms Evans warned Mr Salmond she was about to go public about its findings, he quit the SNP and fought back with a judicial review at the Court of Session.

By January 2019, he had forced the Government to admit its probe was unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, because the lead official on the case had been in prior contact with the complainers, a blatant conflict of interest that poisoned the whole exercise.

Taxpayers were left with a £500,000 legal bill and Ms Sturgeon was on the ropes after admitting staying in touch with Mr Salmond while he was being investigated by her own officials, a possible breach of the ministerial code.

Sixteen days after the judicial review result, Mr Salmond was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault at Edinburgh Sheriff Court - no coincidence, say his supporters, who see the criminal case as payback for his win in the civil one.

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The Holyrood inquiry has called Mr Salmond, Ms Sturgeon, Ms Evans and others as witnesses, potentially making them give evidence on oath, to get to the bottom of the flawed probe, the judicial review fiasco, and the propriety of Ms Sturgeon’s actions.

All are being asked to make written submissions which will soon be hung online like dirty washing.

The inquiry will also look at the “culture” within the government, and whether it has turned sickly.

As the cross-party group of MSPs try to work out who knew what and when, it will be a dripping roast for the media and Ms Sturgeon’s critics.

One line MSPs are pursuing is why the harassment policy “was ordered in the first place”. Translation: was it crafted with Mr Salmond in mind? If it was, it would suggest the “tactile personality” that emerged in court should have been as no surprise to Ms Sturgeon.

Holyrood watchers are agog at the prospect of Ms Sturgeon’s lesser-spotted husband, Peter Murrell, also being grilled in the autumn. This is one of the most intriguing aspects of the inquiry because it is about power, and whether it is concentrated to an unhealthy degree in the SNP.

Scotland’s party of government is like few in a modern democracy.

At its apex are a couple who have run the show according to their whims for so long that their decisions are almost beyond challenge.

Mr Murrell effectively is SNP HQ.

He has worked for the SNP almost his entire adult life. By the time he became SNP chief executive in 2001 at the age of 36, he had already been working for the party for 14 years in Edinburgh, London and Brussels, including a stint as its fisheries spokesman.

An item since 2003, he and Ms Sturgeon married in 2010.

Many in the SNP have long baulked at this circle of two having such a stranglehold on the party machine.

On the eve of her becoming leader and First Minister in 2014, Ms Sturgeon denied she and her husband would be an overbearing duo.

“I’m comfortable there are no issues that arise,” she said.

That’s not how others see it.

MP Kenny MacAskill has urged Mr Murrell to resign, accusing him of promoting his wife’s personality ahead of the party’s best interests, and the “shameful” treatmeant of those out of favour.

Because their fates are linked, the relationship has also fed muttering about Ms Sturgeon’s caution on Indyref2. If she lost, he would be out of a job too, their nice life upended.

Mr Murrell is part of the Holyrood inquiry because MSPs have asked for SNP records as well as government ones, as the walls between the two appear to have been getting thinner and thinner down the years.

SNP emails, like the one Ms Sturgeon prefers to use, may have been “used between ministers and special advisers”, MSPs have heard.

The inquiry will, therefore, look at “the distinction drawn between Government and party matters”.

Once the opposition MSPs on the committee, who are in the majority, pop the hood on SNP HQ, they’ll want to delve into its inner workings as much as possible.

There is a saying attributed to Otto von Bismark, first Chancellor of the German Empire, that “laws are like sausages - it is best not to see them being made”. The same is true of parties and government up close.

Voters following the inquiry are advised to bring a strong stomach.