THE First Minister this week said that the notion that the Alex Salmond inquiry was being obstructed “bears no scrutiny whatsoever”. This is an unfortunate formulation, given that the investigating committee’s complaint is that the Government is refusing to bear any scrutiny.

It is obviously unsatisfactory that Ms Sturgeon should have informed the chamber in January 2019 that she would “provide whatever material" the committee required, while the inquiry’s convener, Linda Fabiani, maintains that it has been “frustrated with the lack of evidence and, quite frankly, obstruction it is experiencing”.

Complaints that what was promised without equivocation has not been produced will not be settled by simply reiterating such assurances, even if Ms Sturgeon has, after considerable resistance, extended that commitment to include the SNP, as well as the actions of ministers and officials.

As always, there is a tiresome tendency for partisan factions to accept or denounce justifications being advanced. It is a matter of fact that both the Scottish Government and Mr Salmond have failed to produce material that may be essential for the inquiry to reach its conclusions. Indeed, no one is in a position to judge its relevance, since it is not forthcoming.

To say so is not to ascribe fault – except for the obvious fault of having promised a transparency that has not yet been delivered. There may be legal obstacles, including those of privilege; it may be true, as the Government asserts, that some disclosures are not “in the interests of good government and the upholding of the rule of law”. But at the least, such claims are not consistent with assurances the First Minister previously offered.

It is therefore unsurprising that there should be suspicion that errors (in the most charitable interpretation) or misconduct are being deliberately concealed. Nor is it a partisan judgment, at least in party political terms, even if opposition politicians understandably make hay of the mess.

Almost all the central figures, with the exception of civil servants, are in the SNP, including those, such as Ms Fabiani and Kenny MacAskill, who have been highly critical. This case centres on the behaviour in office of two successive party leaders. The fact that Peter Murrell, the party’s chief executive, is Ms Sturgeon’s husband, and that the SNP has enjoyed virtually total dominance in government for more than a decade compounds the public sense that something about all of this stinks.

Rightly or wrongly, that has been compounded by the party’s behaviour. Some is directly connected with the case, such as the fact that the Government has already had to admit unlawful behaviour towards Mr Salmond, before paying out £500,000 of public money.

But it is of a piece with a wider tendency in its record, something already obvious during Mr Salmond’s time in Bute House. Evasion over whether, and what, legal advice had been sought on EU membership led to the government refusing requests for clarification on increasingly spurious grounds, before being dragged towards the courts.

The routine dismissal of Freedom of Information requests; the cavalier attitude towards ill-drafted legislation; proposals, such as those for trials without jury, that undermine basic democratic accountability, have all been worrying indicators of a government that, even its most ardent supporters should admit, has been inclined to evade and obscure anything that might embarrass the party – using public money and the apparatus of the state for the purpose.

That is not only unhealthy for good governance. It does the SNP itself no favours. Transparency and honesty are fundamental for any party that wants to be seen as fit for office, let alone lead its citizens into an entirely different relationship with the rest of the world. Unless the party amends its conduct on this front comprehensively, questions about its fitness for office, on both moral grounds and those of basic competence, will persist.