NICOLA Sturgeon has said Alex Salmond doesn’t have a “shred of evidence” of a conspiracy against him. 

In an interview with BBC Scotland, the First Minister hit out at her predecessor, accusing him of being unfair both to the women who came forward with complaints and to others who had given him "years of loyal service".

Sturgeon told the BBC’s Glenn Campbell: “This week, I hope Alex Salmond will turn up to the committee and bring the claims he's been making out into the open. He appears to be suggesting some kind of conspiracy or concerted campaign against him without a shred of evidence.

"So, I think this is his opportunity, because the burden of proof of that lies with him, to replace the insinuation and assertion that we've heard over several months now, with evidence.

“Now, I don't believe he can do that because I know what he is claiming about a conspiracy is not true.

"But if he can't substantiate it time for him to stop making these claims because it's not fair to women first and foremost who came forward with complaints, or the other people who've given years of loyal service to Alex Salmond, who he also appears to be directing those claims to. 

“But this is his opportunity this week to come to the committee and put these claims out into the open.”

Salmond is set to appear before MSPs at the Holyrood harassment inquiry on Wednesday.

According to reports, the former first minister accepted the committee’s invitation after the Scottish Parliamentary corporate body (SPCB) said that “on balance” it was “possible to publish” his dossier accusing Sturgeon of breaking the ministerial code.

Salmond has tied his appearance in front of the committee to the document - which is his submission to a separate inquiry probing whether or not Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code. 

In it he claims the First Minister has breached the strict rules binding ministers repeatedly.

The SNP leader has always denied her predecessor’s allegations.

The cross-party harassment committee is investigating the Scottish Government’s flawed probe into allegations of misconduct made against Salmond by two civil servants.

He had the exercise set aside in January 2019, with a judicial review declaring it “unlawful” and “tainted by bias”.

The Government’s botched handling ultimately cost the taxpayer half a million pounds.

At a later criminal case, the ex-SNP leader was cleared on 13 counts of sexual assault.

Following the Scottish Government’s concession of the judicial review, Sturgeon referred herself to the independent advisers on the Ministerial Code over claims she had failed to swiftly declare the three meetings and two phone calls with Salmond about the harassment complaints.

Scottish Government guidelines say that when discussing official business “any significant content” should be reported back to private offices.

James Hamilton, a former director of public prosecutions in Ireland, has been tasked with investigating the First Minister’s actions.

Sturgeon told parliament that she became aware of the government’s investigation of the allegations against Salmond when he told her at a meeting in her Glasgow home on April 2, 2018.

However, it later emerged that she met Geoff Aberdein, Salmond’s former chief of staff, in her office on March 29, 2018.

In her evidence to the cross-party Holyrood inquiry, Sturgeon said she had forgotten that meeting. 

In his submission to Hamilton, Salmond said this was "untenable".

On Monday, the First Minister told Campbell she stood by the claim.

“On April 2, 2018, Alex Salmond came to my house, and told me in quite gory detail what he was accused of and also gave me his account of one of those incidents,” she said. 

Sturgeon said the meeting with Geoff Aberdein three days before had “never held any significance” in her head.

When Campbell said it was unlikely you'd forget hearing that your former mentor was facing allegations of sexual misconduct, Sturgeon said: “My recollection of that I will give to the committee, but it doesn't change what I said to Parliament, or in my written evidence."

She said: “I will set out my recollections of all of these things, and answer questions for as long as the committee wants to hear about that. This is a situation where I and others were faced with a really difficult scenario. 

“Allegations against somebody that I had been very close to, I dealt with that to the best of my ability. I think I made the right judgments overall, people will be able to make up their own minds about that. “

Sturgeon said allegations swirling within the Scottish Government about Salmond didn’t play into her mind when the new complaints process was approved. 

The crucial change in the new policy brought in at the start of 2018 was that it could look at historic allegations of abuse. 

Sturgeon said: “I had a lingering suspicion because of the Sky [News] query about [misconduct at] Edinburgh airport [in November 2017]. But what I've set out to Parliament I stand by in terms of when I became aware of the specific Scottish Government complaints.”

She added: “The committee has already heard evidence from the senior official who was charged with drawing up that policy that he actually looked at the pre existing policies, decided there was a gap in terms of former ministers, and that wasn't a specific request of mine.”

Sturgeon continued: “The idea of back then, that this was about, Alex Salmond, as opposed to the global me too movement that everybody, organisations the world over, were reviewing the policies, making sure that past deficiencies where women felt we couldn't come forward particularly about historic complaints, that we were trying to rectify that, that was the context for the development of this policy, not Alex Salmond.”

Sturgeon also said she still had confidence in Leslie Evans as Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government. Over the weekend there were reports she was likely to be criticised by the committee’s report, and could be forced to stand down. 

Sturgeon said if she was to win the election in May, she would keep Evans on.

She said: “Leslie Evans is going to be Permanent Secretary. Her term of office comes to an end, I think in about a year's time or such like. My expectation is that Leslie Evans will continue until then to be Permanent Secretary.”