ALEX Salmond has accused Michael Russell of 'rewriting history' to take credit for maintaining free university education.

The former First Minister disputed Mr Russell's recollection of events he gave in an interview published yesterday and said it did him "no credit to to imagine himself as the hero of the hour" when the implementation of the policy was a "team" effort.

Mr Salmond spoke out after the SNP president, who was Education Secretary in Mr Salmond's government from 2011 to 2014, said civil servants tried to stop him from bringing in the plan following the 2011 Holyrood election.

Mr Russell told the Institute for Government officials were concerned about financial implications after the UK Government announced that fees would rise in England from £3000 to £9000 a year.

The increase there would be accompanied by a reduction in government spending, since more of the costs of higher education would be borne by students. Via the Barnett formula, the move would lead to a reduction in the size of the Scottish block grant from the Treasury.

Mr Russell, who later went on to become Brexit Secretary under First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, insisted it was right to "secure" the policy.

He related conversations he had with Mr Salmond when he said Mr Salmond also reported misgivings from the then permanent secretary.

Last night Mr Salmond, who now leads the Alba Party, accused Mr Russell of over-stating his role.

“I didn’t need any persuasion from Michael Russell to abolish tuition fees in Scotland in 2008 when Fiona Hyslop was Education Secretary through removing the graduate endowment nor to make that abolition a centrepiece of our 2011 re-election campaign. In my mind there was never any possibility of re-introducing them," he told The Herald.

"It was as First Minister that I made the commitment in 2011 that “the rocks would melt with the sun before an SNP Government abandoned free education” and that is what was honoured to the great benefit of all Scottish students, through protected places and a minimum income guarantee for the poorest students.

"Indeed I would not have made the commitment to free education in the manifestos of 2007 or 2011 unless it was going to be kept, regardless of what anyone else had to say."

Mr Salmond added: "The tendency to re-invent history to put yourself at the centre of events is not confined to Mike Russell....However, it does Mike no credit to imagine himself as the hero of the hour when he was in reality one of a team of what the Scottish people judged in 2011 to be the most effective and competent administration in Scottish history.

"That is why in 2011 we gained an overall majority in a proportional Parliament. The present administration should remember that it was competence in government that gave so many Scots the new confidence to vote for independence in 2014.”

Mr Salmond's recollections of civil servants' concerns differed from Mr Russell's with the former FM suggesting officials had no particular objection.

He said: "Civil servants were concerned about all spending policies - that’s what they do. However, I do not recall any particular objection about free education since they knew it was a firm government commitment and they had been given a clear direction."

Mr Russell said: "It is sad that he should behave in this way as I am not critical of him in this regard."