NICOLA Sturgeon has suffered an unprecedented second Holyrood defeat over her refusal to release Scottish Government legal advice to the Alex Salmond inquiry.

MSPs backed a Tory motion demanding the advice be disclosed by 65 votes to 55 this evening, having already voted 63-54 in favour of release on November 4.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton warned John Swinney he could now face a personal confidence vote if he continued to withhold the material.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has also said his party may launch legal action if the Government continues to withhold the material.

There were four abstentions in tonight's vote.

The Holyrood inquiry is looking at how the Scottish Government botched an in-house probe into allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against Mr Salmond in 2018.

The former first minister had the exercise set aside through a judicial review at the Court of Session, 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 Government also spent more than £118,000 for external legal advice for 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.

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

In particular, the Government has refused the committee’s request for the legal advice on which it mounted its doomed defence of Mr Salmond’s civil action.

Ministers have cited “legal privilege” for doing so, despite waiving it for three judge-led inquiries on contaminated blood, historical abuse and Edinburgh’s trams. 

After MSPs demanded release of the advice in a non-binding vote earlier this month, Ms Sturgeon said she would consult ministerial colleagues about the issue.

However she warned it would be against the Scottish ministerial code to release any legal advice without the prior consent of the Government’s law officers, and there would have to be "compelling reasons" for disclosure.

In a fresh motion to be debated today, the Scottish Tories note the previous vote in favour of release, and the inquiry’s demand for it, and say the Government should “respect the will of the Parliament by providing the legal advice without any further delay”.

During the debate, deputy First Minister John Swinney admitted the issue had not been discussed by the Scottish cabinet until Tuesday this week, with Ms Sturgeon recusing herself.

He said there would be no decision until there had been a further discussion by the cabinet.

Mr Swinney said the volume of material involved and the need for redaction and data law compliance in any release meant it would be “serious and significant” task.

Green MSP Andy Wightman accused Mr Swinney of hiding behind the law officers as it was highly unlikely they would refuse consent about a civil legal action.

The “compelling reasons” for refusing consent would only come into play if disclosure would damage the criminal justice system, Mr Wightman said.

After the vote, Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said Mr Swinney's credibility had been shattered.

He said: “Once again MSPs have united behind a Scottish Conservative motion to condemn the government’s utter lack of respect for Parliament.

“This debate dealt a crushing blow to John Swinney’s reputation. His credibility has been shattered by defending the indefensible.

“The SNP’s chief fixer rolled out one mortifying excuse after another to try and explain away the SNP’s shameful drive to avoid scrutiny at all costs.

“It’s clearer than ever that the SNP have something damning to hide. They won’t release these key legal documents that would finally shed light on how complainers were failed and why more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money was lost.

“The Parliament made clear today that there is nowhere to run or hide for the SNP. The Scottish Conservatives and every opposition party will continue to demand the release of these vital documents.”