NICOLA Sturgeon has ramped up her criticism of Alex Salmond on the eve of him testifying against her, saying "the ego of one man" could end up inflicting lasting damage on the country. 

The First Minister suggested her predecessor was pursuing a “scorched earth policy that threatens the reputation and integrity of Scotland’s independent justice institutions”.

Ms Sturgeon said yesterday that Mr Salmond was living in an “alternative reality” in which he was the victim of a conspiracy, as it was easier than comforting his demons.

She said the true root of his troubles was his “behaviour” with women.

Mr Salmond is due to give evidence under oath about Ms Sturgeon to MSPs tomorrow.

Her latest attack on him came at FMQs, as Ms Sturgeon was forced to deny a “cover-up” after parts of Mr Salmond’s evidence to a Holyrood inquiry were censored.

Holyrood managers published the material, which is already available in the public domain, on the Scottish Parliament’s website on Monday night.

The Crown Office then raised “grave concerns” that parts of the submission could breach a court order related to Mr Salmond’s criminal trial last year. 

The parliament took down the evidence and republished it with five sections removed, all related to Mr Salmond’s claim that Ms Sturgeon lied to parliament in 2019.

The head of the Crown Office, the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, who is a member of Ms Sturgeon’s cabinet as a legal advisor, denied knowing about the intervention in advance.

He told MSPs yesterday he had not been consulted, and only received a copy of the letter sent by independent counsel in the Crown Office after it had gone to the parliament.

Holyrood Tory leader Ruth Davidson said the redacted sections went to the heart of whether the First Minister misled MSPs and broke the Scottish ministerial code.

Ms Sturgeon told parliament the first she learned of sexual misconduct allegations against Mr Salmond being investigated by her Government was in April 2018, when Mr Salmond told her himself at her Glasgow home.

She said she had not know what Mr Salmond would say before he arriveed, and took the meeting and two follow-ups in her capacity as SNP leader, and so no Government records were made of it.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond inquiry - SNP MSP says plotters should 'get their jotters'

But Mr Salmond claims Ms Sturgeon knew the first meeting was to discuss the Government probe into complaints against him, and that she had helped set up their meeting on 29 March with his former chief of staff, Geoff Abderdein, in her Holyrood office.

Ms Sturgeon later claimed she "forgot" about the prior meeting with Mr Aberdein.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said Ms Sturgeon was “desperate to shut down everything about the secret meeting in her office... because it wrecks her whole argument and confirms that she misled parliament”. 

She said: "The truth is, she knew about those allegations before April 2018.

“Does the First Minister understand why to the public this looks like a cover-up, when the exact evidence that’s being redacted is the most damaging to her personally?”

Ms Sturgeon said: “Scrutiny of me is important, it’s necessary, it’s entirely legitimate.

"What is not legitimate is to pursue a conspiracy theory, a scorched earth policy that threatens the reputation and the integrity of Scotland’s independent justice institutions just because you happen to dislike this Government, and to sacrifice all of that, if I may say so Presiding Officer, on the altar of the ego of one man."

Ms Davidson replied: “People can see your deflection for what it is First Minister, just answer the questions.

"This sorry affair is not just damaging the First Minister’s own reputation, it is damaging the institutions that it is her responsibility to uphold.”

Ms Davidson said afterwards: “The First Minister denied a cover-up, ignoring all the evidence that has been censored, submissions that have been redacted, requests for material which have been refused and dismissing the dozens of times her government has shut down scrutiny.

"For Nicola Sturgeon, this has become all about saving her own skin, no matter how much parliament’s standing is diminished and government’s reputation is tainted.”

The cross-party Holyrood inquiry is looking at how the Scottish Government bungled a probe into sexual misconduct claims made against Mr Salmond in 2018.

He had the exercise set aside in a judicial review, showing it was “tainted by apparent bias”, a Government flaw that left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for his costs.

He was later charged with sexual assault but cleared of all counts at a High Court trial last March.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon says Alex Salmond's 'ego' is a danger to the country

He has claimed the prosecution was driven by people close to Ms Sturgeon, including her husband SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, who resented and feared the judicial review outcome and wanted to remove from public life "even to the extent of having me imprisoned".

Ms Sturgeon is due to give evidence next Wednesday.