THE Scottish Government is to go to court in a bid to disclose potentially explosive evidence related to the Alex Salmond affair.

John Swinney said the Government intended “to initiate legal proceedings to seek a ruling” on whether it could disclose “certain specific documentation” it holds. 

This is understood to refer to material related to the Government’s bungled sexual misconduct probe into the former First Minister, which was undertaken in 2018.

It follows Mr Salmond formally objecting to material about the probe being released and threatening the Government with court action if it tried, given ministers had already promised the courts not to disclose it.

The Government’s new court action and subsequent evidence sift could take many weeks, delaying the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair.

However the Government and Mr Salmond have agreed the release of a 120-page court record of the two sides’ pleadings in Mr Salmond’s legal battle with ministers.

After complaints about evidence blocking, the Government has also released a seven-page chronology of its approach to the legal fight to the Holyrood inquiry.

The cross-party committee is investigating how the Government botched its in-house probe into sexual misconduct claims against Mr Salmond.

The former First Minister overturned it in a judicial review by showing it had been unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, because the investigating official had been in prior contact with his two accusers, contaminating the whole exercise. 

The blunder left taxpayers with a £500,000 bill for Mr Salmond’s legal costs.

It emerged last week that Mr Salmond had threatened a fresh legal action against the Government after it offered to give the inquiry files about the misconduct probe.

The former first minister’s lawyers said it would be a “clear contempt of court” to release the material as the Government had given an undertaking not to do so.

The Government promised the Court on 8 January 2019 that “save insofar as necessary to comply with any lawful requirement, to cooperate with any criminal investigation, or as may otherwise be approved by the Court, [ministers] will not cause or permit the publication or dissemination to any other person of the said Investigating Officer’s report or any statements or other material taken or prepared by her in the course of preparing the same”. 

Only the Court itself or a legal “requirement” can release ministers from the undertaking.

But in a new letter to the Inquiry, Mr Swinney said the Government planned to ask the court about the extent of the undertaking, and whether some of the material ministers wanted to give MSPs was bound by it.

He said: “There are a number of legal issues which the Scottish Government requires to consider in deciding whether documentation can be provided to the Committee.

“One of those factors is the terms of the undertaking given by the Scottish Government to the Court of Session on 8 January 2019. 

“The Scottish Government therefore intends to initiate legal proceedings to seek a ruling from the Court on whether certain specific documentation which the Scottish Government holds is, or is not, covered by that undertaking. 

“The Scottish Government’s position is in favour of the release of those documents. 

“Once such a ruling is available more material may become available to be shared with the Committee at that point. 

“In addition, a Court ruling will enable the Scottish Government to complete the process of examining a wider range of documentation as it relates to the judicial review process and come to a view on whether it can be submitted. 

“Given the numbers of documents potentially involved and the manual nature of the necessary processing task to comply with data protection, confidentiality and legal restrictions we expect this further exercise to take some weeks to complete.”

Mr Swinney said the Government had also asked Mr Salmond’s lawyers for permission to share certain legal documents from the judicial review with MSPs, including his original petition starting the action, and other “court-generated documents”.

He added: "I hope it has been helpful to set out fully range of action which the Scottish Government has taken today and which it will take in the weeks ahead.

"We will continue to make available documentation requested by the Committee so far as is possible, and I hope that the additional steps I have set out above provide the reassurance which the Committee is seeking."