THE SNP Government has refused to say how many officials it ordered to work on its doomed legal battle with Alex Salmond, as it again said the cost was unknowable. 

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said that because civil servants were paid a salary and did not log their hours on the case, it was impossible to work out the bill for staff time.

He conspicously ignored a direct question about how many civil servants were involved in the work, yet was able to say those involved were in the senior civil service and on pay bands A, B and C.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, who asked Mr Swinney about the costs in a parliamentary written question, called it more “secrecy and obstruction” from the Scottish Government.

A Holyrood inquiry is currently looking at how the Scottish Government botched an in-house probe into sexual misconduct claims made against Mr Salmond in 2018. 

Mr Salmond had the exercise set aside in a judicial review at the Court of Session, forcing ministers to admit it had been unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”.

The collapse of the Government’s case in January 2019 left taxpayers with a £512,250 bill for Mr Salmond’s costs, and the Holyrood inquiry is investigating what happened. 

The Government also spent another £118,523 on external legal fees, including hiring respected QC Roddy Dunlop.

However it has never calculated how much more was spent tasking its own staff to work on the judicial review, despite being pushed on the matter for the past 18 months.

The Government’s top official, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, recently told the inquiry it was “not possible” to come to a final figure that included all staff costs.

She said staff, including in-house lawyers, had not recorded how much time they spent on the high-profile case. 

Unimpressed and undeterred, Ms Baillie, a member of the inquiry, asked Mr Swinney in her written question: “How many civil servants were involved in the work preparing for the judicial review…. broken down by (a) the hours that they were involved and (b) salary band.”

In a reply published today, Mr Swinney failed to address the question about staff numbers.

His full reposnse said: “Staff working on responding to the judicial review are civil servants who receive a salary rather than being separately remunerated for dealing with particular matters. 

“In addition, they do not record the proportion of their time that they spend working on particular matters as a matter of course. 

“It is therefore not possible to say how many hours were spent by civil servants involved in this work. 

“Staff working on the judicial review were in band A, B, C and the Senior Civil Service."

Ms Baillie said: “This is the latest example of the secrecy and obstruction that this committee has faced from the Scottish Government and it is quite simply unacceptable.

“We know that the judicial review cost a significant amount of public money. It is vital that the Scottish Government comes clean over just how big that bill was.

“In the last few months we have all seen the depth of secrecy and obfuscation practiced by the highest level of the Scottish Government. This is undignified, undemocratic and unacceptable: It must end.”

The Government is already facing accusations it is obstructing the inquiry’s work by failing to provide the evidence it has requested.

Convener Linda Fabiani yesterday announced it had suspended its witness hearings because of a lack of material from the Government, Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon’s husband, the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.

She said the inquiry had become “completely frustrated with the lack of evidence and, quite frankly, obstruction it is experiencing”.

Ms Sturgeon has also been accused of misleading parliament by promising full transparency.

She told MSPs on 17 January 2019: “I undertake today that we will provide whatever material they request. That is the definition of full, thorough and open inquiries. 

“My commitment is that the Government and I will cooperate fully with it, which is, I think, appropriate.”

However her officials and ministers have since tried to block witnesses and withheld evidence, citing “legal privilege” despite waiving it for three judge-led inquiries. 

The Government has said it is "demonstrably false" that the First Miinister misled parliament.

After winning his civil action against the Scottish Government in 2019, Mr Salmond was charged with sexual assault, leading to a trial earlier this year at which he was acquitted on all 13 counts.

His supporters claim the two legal cases were linked, and that Mr Salmond was the victim of a high-level plot to stop him making a political comeback and rivallling his estranged successor.

Ms Sturgeon has dismissed the conspiracy theory as a "heap of nonsense".