NICOLA Sturgeon is facing calls for resign after two senior SNP figures directly contradicted her account of meetings at the heart of claims she lied to parliament.

In a potentially devastating development for the First Minister, the pair of former special advisers challenged her version of two 2018 meetings about sexual misconduct claims involving Alex Salmond.

They also said a Scottish Government official had given the confidential name of a complainer against Mr Salmond to one of his associates.

One eye witness, an advocate, claimed Ms Sturgeon offered to intervene in a Government investigation of the claims, something she has denied to parliament.

The testimony supports Mr Salmond’s allegation that Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code by misleading MSPs, a resignation offence which she denies. 

The statements were made by Kevin Pringle, the former chief of staff to Alex Salmond and communications director of the SNP, and advocate Duncan Hamilton, a former SNP MSP and special adviser. 

The Scottish Tories called on Ms Sturgeon to resign.

Ms Sturgeon gives evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair tomorrow.

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

The former First Minister 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.

After the Government's defence collapsed, Ms Sturgeon told parliament she had three meetings with Mr Salmond in April, June and July 2018, while he was under investigatiion by her officials.

She insisted she took the meetings in her capacity as SNP leader, and so no Government records were kept.

She said the first she knew Mr Salmond was under investigation was when he told her himself at her home on April 2, 2018, and that she hadn't known what he wanted to discuss, although she thought he might be about to resign over a sexual scandal.

However it later emerged Mr Salmond's former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, had told her about the Government investigation at a previous meeting in her Holyrood office, on March 29, 2018.

Mr Aberdein has also said the name of a complainer was shared with him by one of Ms Sturgeon's officials.

Ms Sturgeon claims she "forgot" about this first meeting, despite the explosive content, and that it had been fleeting and opportunistic.

Mr Salmond claims Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code by misleading Holyrood about the nature of both meetings.

He claims the March 29 meeting with his was pre-arranged, and that Ms Sturgeon used it to tee up the April 2 meeting with Mr Salmond at her home, knowing he wanted to discuss the Government probe. 

In his oral evidence last Friday, Mr Salmond said three other people knew his version to be three true one.

In a statement to the inquiry, Mr Pringle said he was one of the three people.

He said: "I can confirm from my conversations with Mr Aberdein that he is in no doubt that a complainant’s name was shared with him... and he made Duncan Hamilton and me aware of this in a call later the same day.

"Again based on my contact with Mr Aberdein, I know he was clear that the purpose of the meeting on 29 March 2018 was to discuss the two complaints that had been made against Mr Salmond." 

Mr Hamilton's evidence was even more damaging for Ms Sturgeon.

An advocate and officer of the court, Mr Hamilton said he was another of the three people mentioned by Mr Salmond in his evidence.

He said: "I can also confirm that I was told the name of a complainant by Mr Aberdein in the early part of
March 2018.

"I cannot recall the precise date, but it was very shortly after the 7th March 2018.

"The name of the complainant had been given to Mr Aberdein by a senior government official.

"I confirm that I am aware of the identity of the government official who gave the name of the complainant to Mr Aberdein.

"The fact that the government official had shared that information with Mr Aberdein was reported to me, and to Kevin Pringle, on a conference call. I had never heard of the individual named, but Mr Pringle had."

Mr Hamilton also said the March 29 meeting was arranged to discuss the Goverrnment probe.

He said: "I was aware that Mr Aberdein was meeting the First Minister at the Scottish Parliament on 29th March 2018 for the purpose of discussing the complaints. Mr Aberdein made me aware of that meeting and its purpose in advance.

"I can confirm that I did attend the meeting on 2nd April 2018 in the home of the First Minister."

He said the April 2 meeting, which he attended as Mr Salmond's adviser, was expressly arranged to discuss the Government probe.

He said: "As Mr Salmond notes, neither he nor I would have known to attend at the house of the First Minister on 2nd April 2018 without the invitation arising from the meeting on 29th March 2018."

"I spoke to Geoff Aberdein on 29th March 2018 after his meeting in the Scottish Parliament. At that time, he intimated that a further meeting would be arranged to discuss the complaints with the First Minister.

"That meeting was arranged for 2nd April 2018. I was
invited to that meeting and travelled to it along with Mr Salmond and Mr Aberdein.

"I would further note that the letter received from the Scottish Government [informing Mr Salmond he was under investigation] was the sole focus of the meeting.

"Further, when we arrived, everyone in the room knew exactly why we were there. No introduction to the subject was needed and no one was in any
doubt what we were there to discuss."

Mr Hamilton also backed up Mr Salmond's claim that Ms Sturgeion offered to intervene in the investigation.

He said: "I can confirm that the First Minister did offer to assist. We discussed mediation.

"My clear recollection is that her words were ‘If it comes to it, I will intervene.’

"From a legal perspective, that was the most important aspect of the meeting. I therefore remember it clearly.

"I discussed the commitment to intervene with Mr Salmond and Mr Aberdein after we left the meeting specifically because it seemed very likely that mediation would be achieved. From Mr Salmond’s perspective, that was the desired outcome.

"The First Minister did later change her mind. She was entitled to do so. That change was, however, a matter of surprise.

"From a legal perspective, that change in position removed one of the possible alternatives to court proceedings."

He concluded: "I can confirm that this evidence is given to the very best of my recollection. I am prepared to provide the same evidence under oath in an
affidavit if that is considered necessary."

Scottish Tory Douglas Ross said: “Credible witnesses have now backed up Alex Salmond’s claims and the legal advice shows the government knew months in advance that the judicial review was doomed but they still went on to waste more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money.

“There is no longer any doubt that Nicola Sturgeon lied to the Scottish Parliament and broke the Ministerial Code on numerous counts.

“No First Minister can be allowed to mislead the Scottish people and continue in office, especially when they have tried to cover up the truth and abused the power of their office in the process.

“The weight of the evidence is overwhelming. Nicola Sturgeon must resign.

“No evidence she can provide tomorrow will counter the claims of numerous witnesses or refute that her government ignored the legal advice for months and lost more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money in the process.

“We will be submitting a Vote of No Confidence in the First Minister.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "It is right that the First Minister is coming to the committee to respond to the evidence we have heard so far and the serious allegations posed by her predecessor.

"This sorry saga has reflected poorly on her government's handling of serious complaints and on her party's approach to transparency.

"We are entering the final act, I hope that the committee will do justice to the trust placed in us by the Scottish public and the women who were failed by the government."

A spokesman for the First Minister said: "The First Minister will address all of the issues raised – and much more besides – at the committee tomorrow, while the independent adviser on the ministerial code will report in due course. 

“But to call a vote of no confidence in the middle of a pandemic, before hearing a single word of the First Minister’s evidence, is utterly irresponsible.

“It is for the public to decide who they want to govern Scotland and – while we continue to fight the Covid pandemic – with the election campaign starting in just 20 days, that is precisely what they will be able to do.”