Nicola Sturgeon is facing calls to resign after new documents raised further questions about her involvement in the Alex Salmond case.
The government has published emails showing it continued a doomed legal fight with Mr Salmond despite its lawyers advising it was likely to lose.
Further evidence from two other witnesses has also called into question Ms Sturgeon’s version of events.
Scotland’s first minster is to face an inquiry over the affair on Wednesday.
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 investigation 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 sex scandal.
Alex Salmond has been cleared of sexually assaulting nine women while he was Scotland’s first minister.
A jury found the former SNP leader not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges facing him, while another was found not proven.
A further charge of sexually assaulting a 10th woman had previously been dropped by prosecutors.
Mr Salmond had said he was innocent of all the charges against him throughout the two-week trial.
The women who made the allegations against Mr Salmond included an SNP politician, a party worker and several current and former Scottish government civil servants and officials.
During his evidence to the court, he said the claims made about his alleged conduct were “deliberate fabrications for a political purpose” or “exaggerations”.
Sturgeons version challenged
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.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said there was “no longer any doubt that Nicola Sturgeon lied to the Scottish Parliament and broke the ministerial code on numerous counts.”
He added: “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.”
The party, which had earlier published a dossier claiming Ms Sturgeon has breached the ministerial code up to 38 times, said it would be submitting a motion of no confidence in the first minister to the Scottish Parliament.
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said the new documents showed that the government’s handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond had been “indefensible”.
But the pro-independence Scottish Greens, who could hold the balance of power in any vote of confidence, said it was “for the committee and the ministerial code inquiry to do the jobs they’ve been tasked with.”
The Liberal Democrats said the new documents “look very serious” for the first minister, but added: “She deserves her day to respond to these allegations before we decide what to do next.”
On Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon will appear before a Holyrood inquiry to answer questions on the investigation. The BBC reported that the first minister is “relishing” the opportunity to put her side of the story forward.
A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said she would address the issues “and much more besides” at the Holyrood Committee on the Scottish government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints on Wednesday morning.
“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,” he added.
The first minister has denied breaching the ministerial code – the rules setting out how government ministers are expected to behave – and has said she is “relishing” the opportunity to put her side of the story forward at the inquiry.
She has also dismissed Mr Salmond’s claims that people close to her – including her husband Peter Murrell, the SNP chief executive – had plotted against him as untrue.
Ms Sturgeon said there was no evidence to back up the allegations and has accused her predecessor of creating an “alternative reality”.
PLEASE HELP US KEEP GOING AD-FREEHELP US GROW.
This is a "Pay as You Feel" website.
This blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.
You can have access to all of our online work for free. However if you want to support what we do, you could make a small donation to help us keep writing and staying ad-free. The choice is entirely yours.