NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of “sheer hypocrisy” after refusing to rule out defying Holyrood for a third time over legal advice about the Alex Salmond affair.

Tory group leader Ruth Davidson said the First Minister must have “something to hide” after ignoring the will of parliament, despite demanding others respect it when it suited the SNP.

The criticism followed MSPs voting on Wednesday for the second time in three weeks to demand the Scottish Government disclose the legal advice as soon as possible.

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Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the Scottish Cabinet had discussed the matter on Tuesday but would not come to a final decision until after another discussion.

He gave no timetable for when that would be, despite the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair rapidly running out of time to take oral evidence on the documents.

The inquiry is looking at how the Government botched a sexual misconduct probe into claims made against Mr Salmond in 2018, costing taxpayers more than £500,000.

The former First Minister had the exercise overturned in a judicial review by showing it was “tainted by apparent bias” from the start because the investigating officer appointed had been in prior contact with his accusers.

After the Government’s defence collapsed in January 2019, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs the inquiry could have whatever material it wanted, but has failed to live up to that promise.

The inquiry has repeatedly sought, and been denied, the legal advice on which the Government mounted and maintained its doomed defence of the civil action. 

At FMQs today, Ms Davidson reminded Ms Sturgeon of her commitment to give the inquiry whatever it wanted, and the failure to deliver the legal advice as requested.

She said: “The blunt fact is this - the only reason that she is breaking her promise is because she has something to hide.

“During this shabby affair, the First Minister has gone from a self-professed master-of-details to conveniently forgetting key information, dates, meetings and conversations.

“The sheer hypocrisy of the First Minister and her government defying two votes of Parliament is overwhelming.”

She asked if it was true that the legal advice has been that the Government’s case was flawed and Mr Salmond was likely to win, yet the Government carried on.

Ms Sturgeon said it would be a breach of the ministerial code to release Government legal advice without the prior consent of the law officers.

She said a process was under way, led by Mr Swinney, to consider if the advice should be revealed.

She said: “The ministerial code sets out a process that ministers have to go through should legal advice be divulged and, just to remind the chamber and others watching, the starting point in the ministerial code is that ministers must not divulge the contests of legal advice unless certain tests are fulfilled and we are going through a process right now of consideration of those tests. That is the right and proper way to do this.

“Once that process has concluded the Deputy First Minister will update Parliament about the outcome of it.”

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Ms Davidson said the First Minister had repeatedly demanded others respect the will of the Scottish Parliament when it suited her politically, yet had defied it twice so far, and asked if she would do so again if MSPs voted for a third time in favour of releasing the advice.

The First Minister did not address the question directly.

Afterwards, Ms Davidson said: “Nicola Sturgeon dodged the charge that she knew the government’s case was doomed for months before they conceded, costing taxpayers around a million pounds and utterly failing the women who came forward.

“The cynical obfuscation we are seeing serves to confirm why this legal advice needs to be brought into the open.

 “The First Minister’s defence today was flimsy in the extreme – and even she concedes the Ministerial Code doesn’t actually stop a government from publishing legal advice. So she should do what Parliament is demanding and put the information into the public realm.”

Meanwhile, the inquiry has challenged Mr Swinney’s claim to MSPs on Wednesday that any release would involve sifting and redacting thousands of documents.

In a letter to the deputy FM, inquiry convener Linda Fabiani said MSPs wanted to work in a “timeous manner” and had already suffered “a number of lengthy delays”.

It was therefore asking to “narrow the scope of its request for legal advice at this stage”. 

She said that, as a priority, MSPs wanted “copies of the written advice provided by counsel, in particular on the prospects of success”. 

She said: “This advice should be clearly distinguishable and provided privilege is waived, not involve a lengthy process in order for it to be identified and provided to the Committee.

“I must repeat that we are suggesting this to avoid further delays but the Committee still expects the Scottish Government to release its legal advice as previously requested.”