NICOLA Sturgeon may have to wait until next month to give evidence before the Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair.

It comes after senior judge Lady Dorrian agreed to vary a court order made during the former first minister's criminal trial last year.

Mr Salmond's team hope the move will allow evidence he submitted to the inquiry to be published, paving the way for his appearance in person. 

Ms Sturgeon was due to appear before the committee on Tuesday, but this has now been postponed. 

It is understood Mr Salmond plans to submit his evidence to the committee again on Monday.

MSPs could then take a week to further consider it, before the former first minister gives evidence in person around February 23.

Ms Sturgeon could then give evidence the following week, potentially on March 2.

This plan would push the timetable of the inquiry so far back that it is not thought there would be time to have a debate on the committee's eventual report in the Holyrood chamber before it breaks for May's election.

A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: “At its meeting today, the committee was united in its desire to complete this inquiry in an open and transparent way, and to publish its report and recommendations next month.

"Given the impact of the recent court judgment is not yet known, the committee has agreed that it must have the time to reflect on the impact on its work once the full written judgment is published early next week.

"As a result, the committee has agreed that the First Minster’s evidence should be postponed until the full impact of that judgment is considered.

"It is important for the committee to hear from Mr Salmond and the committee has always been clear that the First Minister should be the last witness to appear before the inquiry.”

MSPs on the Holyrood inquiry are looking at how the Scottish Government botched its probe into sexual misconduct claims made against the former first minister by two civil servants in 2018. 

Mr Salmond was due to give evidence earlier this week but a row broke out after the inquiry narrowly vetoed publishing a submission by him. 

The submission contains multiple accusations against Ms Sturgeon, including that she repeatedly misled parliament and so breached the Scottish ministerial code - a resignation offence which she denies.

The decision appeared to rule out Mr Salmond ever testifying in person, as he had made publication of the submission a precondition of an appearance.

However Mr Salmond's team believe it could now be published following court action taken by The Spectator yesterday.

The magazine challenged the scope and terms of a court order made during the former first minister's trial.

Following a hearing, Lady Dorrian agreed to vary it slightly. Her written reasons for this will be published by the start of next week. 

These could prove crucial in influencing the Holyrood committee's decision.

Mr Salmond was cleared of multiple counts of sexual assault following a trial at the High Court in Edinburgh last year.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for the First Minister urged the committee to use its powers to compel Mr Salmond to appear, while Ms Sturgeon told MSPs she is looking forward to being able to tackle "head on" accusations that have been levelled at her.

Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie, a member of the Holyrood committee, said: "I am very glad that the committee has today re-affirmed its wish to speak to Alex Salmond, and given his stated intention to come before the committee I look forward to the date of his appearance.

"On Tuesday the committee will meet to discuss Lady Dorrian’s judgement due on Monday and I hope that we will then be in a position to publish the evidence provided by Mr Salmond.

"I also look forward to the First Minister appearing before the committee in due course, and I am sure she will engage with the committee in the spirit of co-operation and transparency that she has promised on repeated occasions."

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, another committee member, said: "From the outset, this committee have been clear that we could not do our job properly without being able to question Alex Salmond in person. 

"I’m pleased members today have agreed a decision that will hopefully now allow that to happen.

"Once we have had time to digest the full details of the revised court order, the former First Minister must now appear at the earliest opportunity. His evidence is absolutely vital to this inquiry.

"Nicola Sturgeon promised to be fully co-operative with this inquiry but the reality has been her Government blocking us at every turn.

"When she appears after her predecessor, she must be fully open and transparent."