NICOLA Sturgeon’s government has been told to hand over the legal advice on its doomed courtroom battle with Alex Salmond by Friday.

The Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair said it wanted the advice “without further delay and by Friday 13 November at the latest”.

It follows a vote by the Scottish Parliament last week urging the Government to release the secret material.

However the First Minister has warned it could be a breach of the Scottish ministerial code for her to publish the advice without the prior consent of her law officers.

The new demand from the inquiry sets up a potentially dramatic clash between the legislature and the executive.

The cross-party group of MSPs is looking into how the Government botched a sexual misconduct probe into claims made against Mr Salmond in 2018.

The former first minister had the exercise set aside through a judicial review, showing it had been unlawful, unfair and “tainted by apparent bias”.

The Government’s mistake - to appoint an investigating officer who was in prior contact with his accusers - left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for his costs.

The costs were higher than usual because of the way the Government mishandled and dragged out the case.

After the Government’s case collapsed in January 2019, Ms Sturgeon gave an undertaking to parliament to “provide whatever material” the inquiry requested.

She said: “My commitment is that the Government and I will cooperate fully with it.”

But her officials and ministers have since tried to block witnesses and withhold evidence.

In particular, the Government has refused the inquiry's request for the legal advice on which it decided to defend the civil action for  the best part of a year. 

Ministers have cited “legal privilege” for doing so, despite waiving it for three recent judge-led inquiries. 

Last week, MSPs voted 63-54 in favour of a Tory motion urging the Government to publish the legal advice in order to assist the inquiry.

SNP ministers regularly cite the will of parliament in constitutional arguments with London.

However Deputy First Minister John Swinney failed to say the will of parliament on this occasion would be followed.

Instead he said he would consult ministerial colleagues with an eye to the ministerial code.

The next day at FMQs, Ms Sturgeon said the Government may not publish the advice at all.

She said that without the law officers’ consent, she would be “blatantly breaching” the Scottish ministerial code if she handed over the material.

The code states “ministers must not divulge the contents of legal advice" but in “exceptional circumstances ministers may decide that he balance of public interest favours disclosure”.

In those circumstances they must obtain the prior consent of law officers before doing so.

Ms Sturgeon said such consent would “only be given if there are compelling reasons”.

She said Mr Swinney would update Parliament “in due course of our response”.

However in a new letter to Mr Swinney, the inquiry made it plain it didn’t want to wait.

Convener Linda Fabiani wrote: “The Committee has previously asked for the Scottish Government to provide the legal advice it received in relation to the Judicial Review. 

“The Committee assumes that the outcome of the Government’s deliberations on the will of Parliament [last week’s vote] will soon be forthcoming. 

“Given the Committee is taking evidence from the Lord Advocate and the Permanent Secretary on Tuesday 17 November on the judicial review, the Committee requests that the Scottish Government provides the legal advice without further delay and by Friday 13 November at the latest to allow members sufficient opportunity to consider it prior to the Permanent Secretary and Lord Advocate appearing before us.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, who sits on the inquiry, said: "MSPs across the Scottish Parliament united to tell the government that enough is enough, they must release the legal advice that informed the doomed court case involving Alex Salmond.

“Releasing the advice is the government’s only option. They cannot continue to defy the will of the Scottish Parliament and ignore the requests of the committee investigating how £500,000 of public money was lost.

“The secretive, murky approach seeking to cover up evidence at every turn shows that the government have something to hide. If they had done nothing wrong, they wouldn’t be keeping crucial meetings secret and refusing to release a mountain of essential documents.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie, who also sits on the inquiry, added: “Time is up for the Scottish Government and its campaign of secrecy.

“The botched judicial review cost the public purse over half a million pounds and the conduct of senior civil servants has been extraordinary.

“It is time for the truth to be told. The Scottish Government must do as the Parliament has instructed and hand over the legal advice by Friday.”

Ms Sturgeon is currently under investigation for a possible breach of the Scottish ministerial code.

After the civil case collapsed, she told MSPs she had had three meetings and two phone calls with Mr Salmond while he was being investigated by her officials.

Opposition parties claim she breached the code by failing to tell relevant staff of these contacts timeously.

Mr Salmond has also urged the independent investigator on the code, former Irish prosecutor James Hamilton, to expand his work to consider whether Ms Sturgeon also misled parliament and kept civil servants honest.

Ms Sturgeon has said Mr Hamilton is free to look at whatever areas he wishes.


A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have received the committee’s letter and will reply in due course.

"As the Deputy First Minister has made absolutely clear, Ministers always seek to respect the decisions of Parliament, and are therefore now considering their response on this issue, consistent with their obligations under the Ministerial Code.”