When Nicola Sturgeon finally appears before the Holyrood committee investigating the Salmond affair, she will be insulated by that shield of moral self-confidence that has become her trade mark. More in sorrow than in anger, the First Minister will loftily condemn her detractors for impugning her integrity.

How dare they question her memory, when she has had so much on her mind? So, she forgot that she had meetings about her mentor Alex Salmond facing sexual harassment claims. Could happen to anyone.

She has assisted the committee at every stage, giving it literally thousands of pages – look at them – of evidence showing that nothing untoward occurred. It is not in the public interest for the Government to reveal documentation that suggests any different.

And by what right do they drag her long-suffering husband, Peter Murrell, into this affair? He may be chief executive of the SNP, but he has memory issues too. The committee will make up its mind about all that. There is prima facie evidence of gross incompetence in the run-up to the Court of Session debacle in January 2019. But the reason Ms Sturgeon will swan into the committee room exuding calm authority is that the voting public doesn’t seem to care.

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Parties as divided as the SNP normally suffer in the polls. The two most important figures in the independence movement are at loggerheads. Factionalism is rife. Yet the SNP remains far ahead of the other parties in the run-up to the May elections and Nicola Sturgeon’s personal popularity has never been higher. Polls suggest that even SNP members are inclined to believe Nicola Sturgeon’s account of recent events rather than Alex Salmond’s.

Support for independence may have waned somewhat, but that is not surprising. Recent support for independence was fuelled by opposition to Brexit, Boris Johnson and the pandemic. Anger over Brexit is fading as the UK appears to be getting its vaccination act together, while Brussels isn’t. Support for the SNP has generally been greater, historically, than support for independence.

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So Nicola Sturgeon can afford to go on the offensive in her testimony. She has nothing to apologise for, and will no doubt repeat her accusations about Alex Salmond’s character. He has admitted that he is “no saint”.

Spare a thought, she will say, for the women complainers who have been forced to go through their trauma again.

They may have mostly been senior figures in the SNP, but it wasn’t a political plot: it was women giving each other moral support. What about #metoo?

What about me? Ms Sturgeon will assuredly repeat her claim that when a man is accused of misconduct, “often it’s a woman who ends up answering for them”.

“All I have tried to do,” she told Sophy Ridge in October, “is to make sure complaints about senior people in politics can’t be brushed under the carpet”. She will say that Salmond is only angry because she refused to help him by holding the brush.

However, the First Minister needs to be careful. The inquiry is not about Alex Salmond’s character and there are no “victims”. He was acquitted last year of all charges by a female-dominated jury, and is an innocent man. This inquiry is about the behaviour of the Scottish Government, not the behaviour of Salmond.

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Sturgeon’s people presided over a botched disciplinary investigation that was judged by the Court of Session to be “unlawful, unfair and tainted with apparent bias”. It cost the public purse a large sum of money and raised serious questions about the integrity and competence of the Government she leads.

Why did the Government proceed with the case it presented, or rather didn’t present, to the Court of Session in January 2019, when it probably knew it was going to fail? Why did a special adviser, according to Mr Salmond’s testimony, talk about the need to “get him”?

Why was her husband apparently so keen on galvanising the police into taking action against Mr Salmond? Above all, why has Ms Sturgeon been so coy about her meetings with Mr Salmond back in 2018. A coyness which, according to Salmond’s testimony, extended to misleading Parliament.

None of this has anything to do with the identities of the complainants in Salmond’s criminal trial and Ms Sturgeon should beware using those women as a human shield. We don’t know exactly what Lady Dorrian ruled last week in The Spectator case.

But she evidently thought it was “absurd” for the Government to insist that the identities of Government employees be kept secret during investigations that have nothing to do with any criminal case those employees may or may not have been involved in.

Alex Salmond’s evidence, which the committee, like the three monkeys, does not want to see or hear, was redacted to protect the identities of complainants and is already in the public domain. The criminal law should not be used as a contrivance to immunise Government from legitimate scrutiny.

The Holyrood committee can no longer ignore Alex Salmond’s evidence.

But I don’t think Nicola Sturgeon is likely to resign over it. Anyway, Alex Salmond says it is her permanent secretary, Leslie Evans, who should resign. She was in charge of the botched investigation and the panic that gripped the Government machine in the autumn of 2018.

In the unlikely event that the committee asks for anyone’s head, it would probably be Ms Evans’s. And she is anyway nearing retirement.

But I don’t think Nicola Sturgeon will emerge unscathed. Her standing with the voters is as high as ever, but an influential section of the party has lost confidence in her. Worse, her reputation has taken a knock in the wider independence movement, and among the broad centre left of Scotland who like to call themselves “civil society”.

Civic Scotland drove the campaign for a Scottish Parliament in the 1990s and transitioned to supporting independence after 2014 largely because of her leadership. Many of them now are disillusioned with a Government whose legislative priority seems to be curbing free speech in people’s homes through the Hate Crime Bill.

They may even agree that Mr Salmond is a bully, but they don’t think he should have been treated as a sex criminal.

Many people, in and out of the SNP, find it deeply troubling that a group of senior SNP figures sought to have the former First Minister jailed on charges that simply didn’t stand up in court.

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Above all, there is widespread concern at the over-centralisation of power in the SNP: the Sturgeon-Murrell duopoly.

There seems to be an authoritarian coterie around the First Minister which is dedicated, not just to justice and good government, but to burnishing the leader’s image and destroying her political rivals.

The Court of Session fiasco is a matter of record. In the absence of resignations from the officials who caused it, it seems responsibility must lie with the woman upon whose desk the buck stops.