ALEX Salmond has called for the probe into whether Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code to be expanded to check for further serious wrongdoing.

The former First Minister said it should look at whether Ms Sturgeon misled Holyrood, failed to heed legal advice and failed to ensure civil servants were truthful. 

He suggested deputy First Minister John Swinney had given the probe a toothless “straw man” remit designed to be knocked down without harming his boss.

The claims underscore the bitter breakdown in relations between the former First Minister and his successor.

The Scottish Tories said Ms Sturgeon was being "dragged through the mud" by Mr Salmond, but agreed with the him that the remit should be expanded, saying he had made specific and "credible" points.

Mr Salmond also flagged a possible conflict of interest in the Scottish Government official helping the investigation also having prior involvement in his own case.

Mr Salmond made the comments in an email to James Hamilton, the former Irish prosecutor who is judging whether Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code.

The investigation stems from Mr Salmond’s legal battle with the Scottish Government over its separate probe into claims of sexual misconduct against him in 2018.

Mr Salmond had the exercise set aside in a judicial review, showing it had been unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, a Government mistake that left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for his costs, and which is now the focus of a Holyrood inquiry.

After the Scottish Government’s defence collapsed in January 2019, the First Minister revealed she had three meetings and two phone calls with her predecessor while he was being investigated by her own officials in spring and summer 2018.

Opposition parties claim Ms Sturgeon broke the Scottish ministerial code by failing to report these meetings fully and timeously to the relevant officials.

Although the first meeting was on 2 April, 2018, the First Minister did not tell her top official, the Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, about the encounter until the eve of the SNP conference on 7 June, 2018, when she had arranged to meet him a second time.

This was in spite of Mr Salmond telling Ms Sturgeon on 2 April that he was being investigated by her government over alleged sexual misconduct - something Ms Sturgeon was not supposed to know - and that he wanted the matter settled by arbitration.

Ms Sturgeon referred herself last year to Mr Hamilton for a verdict on whether she broke the ministerial code - a possible resignation issue - but his work has only recently started after being halted by Mr Salmond’s separate criminal trial and the Covid pandemic.

In an email to Mr Hamilton on October 6, which was copied to the Holyrood inquiry, Mr Salmond suggested Mr Swinney had tried to emasculate the exercise by giving it a limited "political" remit. 

He said: “The remit given to your investigation by the Deputy First Minister lays a surprising stress on whether she interfered in the Scottish Government investigation. 

“It might even be suspected that this remit has been set up as a straw man to knock down. 

“There is no general bar on Ministers intervening in a civil service process of which I am aware and indeed there are occasions when Ministers are actually required by the code to intervene to correct civil service behaviour. 

“What I wish to know is whether matters which, by contrast, are specified in the Ministerial code such as the primary responsibility of not misleading Parliament (contrary to 1.3 (c) of the code), such as the failure to act on legal advice suggesting the Government was at risk of behaving unlawful (contrary to 2.30 of the code), and such as the Ministerial failure to ensure civil servants gave truthful information to parliament (contrary to 1.3 (e) of the code) will have at least equal status in your deliberations or are you confined to the political remit which you have been set? 

“If your enquiry has been confined by Ministers then please tell me if you have the authority to expand that remit unilaterally? If not, will you seek the authority of those in the Scottish Government who set the remit to expand it into these, and other, areas?”

The Government probe into Mr Salmond was predicated on a harassment procedure covering former ministers drawn up in late 2017 after the #MeToo protests.

The key official behind the procedure was James Hynd.

In his email to Mr Hamilton, Mr Salmond noted the same Mr Hynd had been allocated responsibility for supporting the ministerial code investigation.

Mr Salmond wrote: “ Mr Hynd was himself deeply involved in the Scottish Government’s unlawful complaints procedure. 

“Indeed he claimed under oath at both the Commission which was required as part of the Judicial Review in December 2018 and in front of the Parliamentary Committee last month to be the original author of the policy. 

“I do not dispute Mr Hynd’s personal integrity although I note he was forced to write to the Committee to correct an impression he had unwittingly given about me in his evidence. “However, please clarify his status and position in your enquiry given his prior involvement in this matter.”

It was the issue of prior involvement that gave Mr Salmond his judicial review win.

The Government procedure used against him stated the investigating officer “will have had no prior involvement with any aspect of the matter being raised”.

However the Government appointed an investigating officer who had been in prior contact with both Mr Salmond’’s accusers.

After Mr Salmond won his civil court case he was charged with sexual assault, leading to a trial earlier this year at which he was acquitted on all counts.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “Rightly or wrongly, the First Minister is being dragged through the mud by Mr Salmond.

"Given the seriousness of the claims, expanding the remit of the Ministerial Code investigation and letting the independent adviser rule on what happened is the only plausible course of action.

“Mr Salmond went through numerous Ministerial Code investigations himself. Not only is he familiar with the process, he has also seen exactly where the government went wrong in the court documents disclosed during the judicial review.

"His points are specific and in this instance, appear to be credible.

“However, this is not about siding with Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon. This is about the abuse of government power and the misleading of the Scottish Parliament.

“If the First Minister has nothing to hide and Mr Salmond’s claims have no basis in fact, then the SNP Government must expand the Ministerial Code investigation and find out the truth.

“The only reason to limit the investigation is if they have something to hide.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “We are aware of the contents of Mr Salmond’s letter.

“The remit of Mr Hamilton’s work is well established and was set out to the Parliament by the Deputy First Minister.”