NICOLA Sturgeon’s deputy has denied the Scottish Government has obstructed the Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair by needlessly withholding evidence.

John Swinney said that, while there was a “genuine difference of view” over some whether some files could legally be shared with MSPs, the “factual position” was one of cooperation.

He said he was “at a loss to understand the gulf in both tone and substance” between the inquiry’s public complaining and private acceptance of the Government’s stance.

“I feel it is essential that I correct the record in a number of specific regards,” he said.

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The comments are in a new letter to the inquiry, which, in an unprecedented move, the Deputy First Minister published himself, rather than letting the inquiry do it, as is usual. 

The row follows a stinging rebuke by inquiry convener Linda Fabiani on Tuesday, in which she said the investigation was “completely frustrated” with high-level “obstruction”.

She announced that MSPs had been forced to suspend their witness sessions because of a lack of evidence from the Government, Mr Salmond and the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, who is married to Ms Sturgeon.

Ms Fabiani said: “The Committee continues to be completely frustrated with the lack of evidence and, quite frankly, obstruction it is experiencing. 

“We had hoped to be in a position to hear further oral evidence, but with responses still outstanding from the Scottish Government, Chief Executive of the SNP and the former First Minister, all of this means that we simply cannot proceed at this stage.” 

The cross-party committee is 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. 

On 17 January 2019, Ms Sturgeon gave an undertaking to parliament to “provide whatever material” the inquiry requested.

She said: “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 swathes of evidence, citing “legal privilege” despite waiving it for three judge-led inquiries. 

In the Government’s defence, Mr Swinney replied to Ms Fabiani’s statement today.

He said: “As you know, the First Minister has rightly recused herself from decision making in relation to the Committee and, as a result, I am the Minister with direct responsibility for the Scottish Government’s engagement and cooperation with the Committee. 

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“As such, I feel it is essential that I correct the record in a number of specific regards.

“First, it is simply not the case that the Scottish Government has obstructed the Committee. The Scottish Government has already provided the Committee with over 1,000 pages of material, responding directly to the questions asked by the Committee, and Scottish Government witnesses have provided over 10 hours of oral evidence so far. 

“While I appreciate there is a genuine difference of view over the legal privilege issue, the factual position remains that every Scottish Government witness called has attended the Committee and every request for written material has been met and will be met to the full limit of the law, the Ministerial Code and other conventions.

“I wrote to the Committee on 21 September providing significant additional material that the Committee had requested, including a detailed timeline of events in relation to the Judicial Review. 

“That letter specifically informed you that, far from seeking to block the Committee’s work, the Scottish Government will go to court to seek the legal authority to release further material in relation to the investigation of the complaints that is under the jurisdiction of the Courts.”

The row over the Government’s level of cooperation with the inquiry boiled over at FMQs earlier, when Holyrood Tory leader Ruth Davidson accused Ms Sturgeon of a “shabby abuse of power”, which the First Minister denied.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie also accused the FM of allowing her Government to be “disrespectful” to the inquiry and by extension the parliament.

She said: “If she won’t honour her previous commitment, can she explain to the Chamber what on earth the Scottish Government and the SNP have to hide?”