WHEN Tony Blair appeared to compare the emergent Scottish Parliament to a parish council there was, rightly, outrage. How dare he liken a noble and historic legislature to the political equivalent of a neighbourhood watch committee?

After the events of this week at the Court of Session the former Prime Minister remains in the wrong, about this and so many other matters. It is not the Scottish Parliament that operates like a parish council, but the Scottish Government.

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On second thoughts, my apologies. Given the way the Scottish Government and civil service handled the inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct against former First Minister Alex Salmond – claims he strenuously denies – the parish councils comparison is an insult to parish councils. This was the stuff of grim farce, an example of amateur hour being played out at the top tiers of government.

There are many aspects of this matter that are troubling, starting with the £500,000 of taxpayers’ money – it could end up more if Mr Salmond seeks damages – squandered by the Government in trying to defend its handling of the complaints. Half a million is a mere drop in the ocean of the billions in public spending the Scottish Government oversees, but it is hardly nothing.

How many operations for people in pain and on waiting lists, could £500,000 pay for? How many community groups in deprived areas could have put that money to better use? When it comes to deserving causes in Scotland I think we can all agree that m’learned friends should be somewhere towards the back of the queue.

What is particularly galling is that the Government proceeded with an expensive defence when even a cursory internal review would have shown the investigation was fundamentally flawed from the off.

The inquiry was torpedoed the minute it emerged that the investigating officer appointed to look into the allegations had been in prior contact with the two women who lodged the complaints. This was a clear breach of the Scottish Government’s own rules about the investigating officer having no previous involvement “with any aspect of the matter being raised”.

This is not some arcane point of law: it is Fairness for Dummies, law 101, the kind of thing a 10-year-old would know having watched one episode of Rumpole of the Bailey. It is all very well for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to say that the inquiry had been “fair and robust” save for this flaw, but that is like saying the Titanic offered a wonderful travel experience right up to that business with the iceberg.

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Then there is the matter of how this prior contact came to be known about. The information was initially held back from Mr Salmond and his legal team, and only released after the court intervened. Had the Government not been forced to hand over this information few would have been any the wiser.

There is much more information that needs to be disclosed, starting with further details of the three meetings and two phone calls which took place between Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor while the inquiry was underway, and which were revealed to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

At the first meeting he told her about the complaints made against him. “In the other contacts,” she said, “he reiterated his concerns about the process and told me about the proposals he was making to the Scottish Government for mediation and arbitration. However, I was always clear I had no role in this process and I did not seek to intervene in it at any stage.”

Several questions are raised by this. First, why was there any contact at all after that initial meeting? One such contact was unfortunate but perhaps unavoidable. Two was unwise. But five? Did not the tiniest alarm bell ring about how the FM should proceed here? Why, after Ms Sturgeon made clear she had no role in the process, did she carry on hearing him out?

Ms Sturgeon says she does not need to disclose anything further about her talks with Mr Salmond because they were not Government meetings but conversations between party leader and member, two of which took place at her home. What a very Alice in Wonderland way of looking at things. “Who in the world am I?” asked Alice. “Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Not really, Ms Sturgeon. You are First Minister, and there are clearly times when you have to be, and be seen to be, above the fray. This was so obviously one of those times. “People can make judgments on the decisions I took,” she told Parliament. They will.

The impression given by this entire business, with apologies made but no resignations forthcoming, is of a closed, overly cosy community operating at the heart of government.

Criticism, even of the mildest variety, leads to the shutters coming down and the danders going up. To the Westminster bubble can now be added the Bute House dome. Here’s the thing about bubbles and domes, though, a fact those inside tend to forget after being there too long: people are watching.

The collapse of the government inquiry might be dismissed in time as just another example of poor judgment by well meaning people, no real harm done apart from hundreds of thousands of your money and mine wasted.

Yet consider how the two women who lodged the complaints might be feeling today. Imagine the agonising they went through beforehand, wondering if they could trust the process, if it would be straightforward, fair, and reliable, if it would be worth the huge leap of faith they were about to take.

Disillusioned probably does not come close.

We have come to expect this kind of low level incompetence in too many aspects of our lives, but in some instances it simply will not do to plough on and hope for the best, then use other people’s money to get yourself out of a mess. The Scottish Government is used to telling Westminster to get its act together. Time for a look in the mirror.