THE Scottish Government has moved a step closer to publishing the legal advice it received for the court battle with Alex Salmond.

John Swinney has now offered to meet with MSPs to discuss an appropriate “mechanism” for sharing the information.

There was scepticism from some members of the Holyrood inquiry investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment complaints.

The Scottish Parliament has now twice voted for ministers to reveal what their lawyers said about their chances in the court battle with the former First Minister.

Salmond took his ex-colleagues to a judicial review after a civil service probe found him guilty of harassment in August 2018.

That probe was set aside by the Supreme Court in January last year, who said it was “unlawful” and “tainted by bias” as the investigating officer had met with one of the two complainants.

The judge ordered the Scottish Government to pay the former First Minister’s costs, leaving the taxpayer out of pocket by more than £500,000.

MSPs probing the fallout want to know what the government’s lawyers said about the likelihood of success and when they knew they were going to lose.

In a letter to the committee, deputy First Minister John Swinney said he and cabinet colleagues wanted to “establish a practical way that enables the committee to have access to the information it seeks”.

He said ministers were keen to avoid setting a precedent that “will impact negatively on the future ability of Scottish Government administrations to seek and receive legal advice in confidence”.

Swinney said officials would be free today to meet and “propose a mechanism to establish an appropriate way forward”.

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It’s not entirely clear what those mechanisms are, however it is thought it could mean some way of letting the committee see the advice, without making it available to the wider public.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “John Swinney continues to drag his feet rather than respecting the will of the Scottish Parliament and releasing the full legal advice his Government received.

“It is clear he is trying to bide for time and hoping this issue will go away.

“In the name of transparency, John Swinney must release this advice without any further delay. No ifs no buts.

“Otherwise the public who saw £500,000 of their money wasted on this case will only think he is treating them like fools.”

Labour’s Jackie Baillie added: “This letter is long overdue but represents a first step in releasing the legal advice to the Committee.

“The Scottish Parliament has commanded the SNP government to hand over the legal advice and it’s clear that it has dawned on John Swinney that they can’t ignore the wishes of Parliament.

“It is impossible for the Committee to fulfil its function if this vital information is not handed over.

“ It is time for the government to co-operate with the Committee to uphold the will of the Parliament.”

The National: Labour MSP Jackie BaillieLabour MSP Jackie Baillie

Details of Swinney’s offer came as MSPs questioned Nicola Sturgeon’s “gatekeeper”.

Last month it emerged that the First Minister’s principal private secretary (PPS) John Somers had met with Miss A , one of the women who complained about Salmond, just two days before the Sturgeon signed off on a new Scottish Government complaints policy.

The policy would apply to “former ministers, including from previous administrations regardless of party”.

Somers told MSPs yesterday that he only told his line manager, Barbara Allison, about the meeting with the complainant.

He “definitively and categorically” did not tell anyone else.

Somers said he felt “overwhelmed” at the woman’s disclosure and upheld his commitment to her to keep the details of their conversation secret.

Somers said: “I wouldn’t tell the First Minister because it wasn’t my experience to share.

“That was my first priority.

“Secondly, had I done that, I would have put the First Minister in a state of knowledge about something she couldn’t have taken action upon at that point.”

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Somers continued: “In the course of that disclosure, Miss A had said to me that there had been experiences in the past that she wanted to share and she wanted to share in a way that would improve the organisation – and make sure that no one else would have to go through that experience again.

“She was not making a complaint, but she wanted to assess her options for how she could best share that.

“One of those options would be potentially speaking to the First Minister about her experience and so that’s why I assume she came to me.”

He continued: “I came back to her the following day and we agreed that she would speak my line manager directly, which is Barbara Allison.

“At the end of the second meeting, I said that if she said she felt she was not being taken seriously and no one was listening to her, she should come back to speak me and if she wanted to speak with the First Minister then I would set that up.”

Somers said to the inquiry: “After that second meeting, I never heard from her again.”

Asked if he would tell anyone in the SNP, Somers added: “It did not occur to me, my priority was on protecting her anonymity and confidentiality.”