THE Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair has criticised the Scottish Government after it refused to allow two civil servants to appear as witnesses next week.

SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, convener of the committee investigating the debacle, said the move was "unacceptable" and pointed to ongoing delays and obfuscation. 

It came after Deputy First Minister John Swinney said pushing ahead would have led to a "serious risk" the Scottish Government would inadvertently identify complainers.

Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, who sits on the committee, said the "ham-fisted political interference" was "nothing short of an outrage".

MSPs were due to hear from Judith MacKinnon, the investigating officer whose prior contact with the accusers led to the Government conceding its probe had been unlawful and tainted by apparent bias, and civil servant Gillian Russell.

In a letter to the committee, Mr Swinney said the Scottish Government is "undergoing a process of seeking agreement from the former first minister’s representatives" for the release of documents relating to the complaints process. 

He wrote: "That process was due to be completed on Friday, November 20, but we now understand that more time will be needed for them to complete their review of the documents. 

"In these circumstances the government will not be in a position, before November 24, to finalise the timeline and statement and complete relevant GDPR notifications.

"Without the timeline and statement to accompany documents, there is a serious risk that the Scottish Government would, in providing our staff to give evidence to the committee, inadvertently breach either the undertaking or the court order preventing jigsaw identification of the complainers."

Mr Swinney said the Government expects the process involving Mr Salmond's legal team to be completed soon. 

He said he would write to the committee indicating whether a statement, timeline and underlying documents can be provided before its meeting on December 1.

He said: "I am confident that once the Government has provided the committee with a statement and timeline in relation to the investigation of the complaint phase of its inquiry (along with the underlying documents), that Ms Russell, Ms MacKinnon and other Scottish Government witnesses will be able give their evidence."

In reply, Ms Fabiani said the committee originally asked for the relevant documents to be submitted by mid-July, and this deadline was subsequently extended to August 31.

In a letter to Mr Swinney, she wrote: "You indicated at that time that you would not be able to release this documentation as an objection had been received and you subsequently informed us that you were considering taking the matter to court.

"The committee confirmed in its letter of October 12 and repeated in its letter of November 6 that it was not seeking, nor did it require the Government to seek, documents the court cannot release without a court order and it confirmed that it wished to receive from the Scottish Government as a soon as possible, a timeline or written submission giving information on the process undertaken by the Scottish Government in investigating the complaints."

She added: "Given all of this, I find it unacceptable that you are now writing to the committee to say that the Scottish Government does not agree to two of its civil servants giving evidence to the committee at its meeting next Tuesday because the Scottish Government has not produced a timeline and statement to accompany documentation. 

"While the committee appreciates that no witness should be put in a position where they might inadvertently breach a court undertaking or court order, it is the Scottish Government which has put its own employees in this position.

"I have previously made clear my, and the committee’s frustration at the continual delays and obfuscation we seem to be facing and your correspondence has only added to that frustration."

Ms Baillie said: “This is nothing short of an outrage.

“This ham-fisted political interference into the work of this committee is simply unacceptable.

“The secrecy and obfuscation of the Scottish Government knows no bounds.

"The worst of this latest episode is that John Swinney is blaming the lack of written evidence for the non-appearance of these witnesses, when he is the one that is withholding the evidence. You really couldn’t make it up.

“The First Minister’s commitment to allow the committee access to all documents and personnel it may need was clearly nothing more than a bad joke."

Fellow committee member Murdo Fraser, a Scottish Tory MSP, said: “This is yet further confirmation that the SNP Government are doing everything they can to shut down this inquiry.

“They continue to block the vital work of this committee at every turn and are evading any sort of scrutiny.

“The public deserve to know why £500,000 of their money was wasted but the idea of being transparent is completely non-existent at the heart of this SNP Government.”

A cross-party group of MSPs is looking into how the Scottish 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.

Mr Salmond was cleared of multiple sexual assault charges at the High Court in Edinburgh earlier this year.