NICOLA Sturgeon stood by her Justice Secretary as opposition parties called on Michael Matheson to go over the chaos that has engulfed Police Scotland and ended abruptly yesterday with the resignation of Phil Gormley.

The Tory leader Ruth Davidson, said the whole affair showed the Government was too close to the force and to its oversight body to allow them to be properly effective.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Davidson said it was time for the Scottish Parliament to take on the role of appointing the chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

As this would stop any future Justice Secretary taking the head of the SPA “into a room and make him change his mind.”

“Does the First Minister think that that sounds like true independence?” Davidson asked.

Andrew Flanagan, who quit as SPA chair last year, reversed a decision to allow Gormley to return to work last November, despite ongoing investigations into his behaviour.

He had initially okayed Gormley coming back off special leave, but changed his mind after a conversation with Matheson in which, he claims, the Justice Secretary had told him this was a “bad decision”.

Sturgeon said she did not understand what the Tory leader’s position was: “I have said to Ruth Davidson before, if she continues to maintain that she thinks that the justice secretary acted inappropriately in doing what he did, logically her position must be that the Justice Secretary should not have asked those questions and the then chief constable should have been allowed to return to work the following day, without the senior command having been informed, without the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner having been consulted about the impact on the on-going investigation, and without any steps having been taken to ensure the welfare of officers who had made complaints.

"I do not think that that would have been the right course of action.

“I will leave Ruth Davidson to explain why, as it seems, she thinks that it would.”

Davidson said there needed to be a change in the law: “If the First Minister is serious about strengthening the structure and oversight of the single police force then having its chair appointed by Parliament.

Sturgeon told her primary legislation would be needed to do that, and the Tory leader responded: “Guess what First Minister, this is a Parliament – changing the law is what we do.”

The First Minister said: “Right now we have a new chair of the Scottish Police Authority in place, she is at the start of her term in office, I think she is doing an excellent job and I think we should get behind her in that.

“I think we should consider in the fullness of time before we come to appoint a new chair, whether there is changes necessary.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard called on Sturgeon to consider the findings of a review of policing led by former Labour MSP and former police officer Graeme Pearson published in 2015.

“Since then, two chief constables have gone, morale among rank-and-file officers has sunk and public confidence has declined, and all the time the First Minister refuses to take responsibility. Will she take responsibility and look again at the recommendations of the Pearson review and will she find a new justice secretary to deliver them?”

Sturgeon said that she recognised there had been “challenges” but it was important to remember that “the central point is that we have an excellent police force in this country that is working hard day in, day out to make sure that crime is at a 43-year low, and we should not lose sight of that fact; sometimes when I listen to the debates in the chamber, I think that some members do occasionally lose sight of it.”

Meanwhile, Matheson told a committee of MSPs that a decision not to hold a Scottish inquiry into undercover policing could be revisited if new information comes to light.

Yesterday, the minister said a separate probe was not in the public interest, and that a review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) found no allegations of misconduct by undercover officers.

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said it was “inconceivable” to think that abuses only happened south of the Border.

Derek Penman, from HMICS said no one had come forward in response to a plea for those affected by undercover policing in Scotland to contribute to the review.

Matheson told the committee: “Should new information or evidence become available in due course, particularly through the Undercover Policing Inquiry, I will give it careful consideration and if appropriate revisit the possibility of an inquiry.”