NICOLA Sturgeon has said the independent probe into whether she broke the ministerial code can expand to look at “any issues”, following a demand from Alex Salmond.

The First Minister said it was up to the independent investigator to decide whether to broaden his enquiries beyond the initial remit set by deputy FM John Swinney.

She said: “If he thinks there are any issues that engage the ministerial code, or in any way could constitute a breach if the ministerial code, my view is that he is free to look at them.”

It followed Mr Salmond saying the probe should be exapnded to look at whether Ms Sturgeon misled parliament, failed to heed legal advice and failed to ensure civil servants were truthful. 

The former FM also suggested Mr Swinney had given the probe a toothless “straw man” remit designed to be knocked down without harming his boss.

Mr Salmond made the comments in an October 6 email to James Hamilton, the former Irish prosecutor who is judging whether Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code.

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

She has also been accused of misleading parliament with incomplete and improbable statements. 

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton has said Ms Sturgeon should resign as First Minister if she is shown to have broken the code.

At FMQs, Tory MSP Oliver Mundell asked Ms Sturgeon if she would agree to expand the ministerial code investigation to include her statements to parliament and her actions on the legal advice for the judicial review.

She replied: “My view right now is that James Hamilton, who is the adviser undertaking the investigations into the ministerial code, is not restricted at all in the issues he can look at.

“If he thinks there are any issues that engage the ministerial code, or in any way could constitute a breach if the ministerial code, my view is that he is free to look at them.

“If he considers that requires any change to his official remit, I’m sure he his perfectly able to say that.

“But just for the record, and to be clear, I do not consider his remit to be limited to just one aspect of the ministerial code.”

In his email to Mr Hamilton, Mr Salmond said suggested the remit he had been set by Mr Swinney was designed to leave Ms Sturgeon in the clear, as it was off the point.

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?”

After his email was released by the Holyrood inquiry earlier this week, the Tories urged Ms Sturgeon to expand the ethics probe, saying Mr Salmond had made “credible” points.