NICOLA Sturgeon's deputy has rejected a cross-party demand to widen an investigation into whether she breached the Scottish Ministerial Code.

John Swinney was accused of “blatantly blocking” work which could establish whether Ms Sturgeon misled Holyrood - a potential resignation offence.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats said the decision "stinks to high heaven".

Last week, former First Minister Alex Salmond accused Ms Sturgeon of repeatedly misleading the Scottish Parliament about a series of controversial meetings she had with him in 2018.

At the time, Mr Salmond was under investigation by the Scottish Government over sexual misconduct claims made against him by two female civil servants.

Ms Sturgeon told Holyrood she did not know Mr Salmond wanted to discuss the probe with her, and took the first meeting at her home on 2 April 2018 in her capacity as SNP leader.

However Mr Salmond directly contradicted this, saying Ms Sturgeon arranged the meeting four days earlier with one of his former aides in the full knowledge it was Government-related.

Mr Salmond said Ms Sturgeon had breached the Scottish Ministerial Code, and urged the independent adviser on the Code, James Hamliton, to look into it.

Mr Hamilton is currently checking whether Ms Sturgeon broke the code, but on the basis of a much narrower remit set by Mr Swinney, although Ms Sturgeon says he is free to explore any issue.

Mr Salmond has claimed the remit is a "straw man" designed to find Ms Sturgeon innocent of a largely irrelevant issue related to civil servants. 

After Mr Salmond’s claims, Labour, LibDem and Tory MSPs on the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair urged Mr Swinney at the weekend to expand Mr Hamilton’s remit, to direct him to look at the specific allegations raised by Mr Salmond.

READ MORE: Opposition MSPs call for probe into Sturgeon to be expanded after Salmond claims

However the deputy First Minister has refused.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Deputy First Minister already confirmed to parliament in November, in response to a parliamentary question, that the James Hamilton inquiry could look at any breach of the ministerial cod. We will not prejudge that process.”

The Holyrood inquiry is looking into how the Scottish Government botched its probe into sexual misconduct allegations made against Mr Salmond in 2018.

Mr Salmond had the exercise seat aside in a judicial review by showing it was flawed from the start and “tainted by apparent bias”, a Government error that left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for his legal costs.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, who sits on the Holyrood inquiry, accused the Scottish Government of also trying to curb Mr Hamilton's work.

He said: “The SNP are blatantly trying to block this investigation because they know it exposes the First Minister. 

“Nicola Sturgeon said in Parliament, and Mr Swinney said on television this weekend, that James Hamilton can investigate what he wants but they are now doing everything in their power to prevent that happening by limiting the Ministerial Code investigation.

“These are the actions of a government that clearly has something to hide. If Nicola Sturgeon had done nothing wrong, she would welcome these investigations and make them as broad as necessary.

“Instead, they are shutting down scrutiny in an effort to let the First Minister get away with duping the Scottish public.”

READ MORE: Scottish Government Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans throws out 'SNP propaganda' complaint

LibDem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, who also sits on the Holyrood inquiry and wanted the Code investigation to be formally widened, said: "This stinks to high heaven, If I had nothing to hide and was being falsely accused of lying to parliament, I'd be jumping at the chance for the official exoneration that a live ministerial code investigation could offer."

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: "The unwillingness of the SNP Government to have legitimate scrutiny is truly a dark development for Scottish democracy."