NICOLA Sturgeon has accused Alex Salmond of putting his own ego ahead of the reputation of a key part of the country’s justice system in a pursuit of a “scorched earth policy” against the Scottish Government.

The First Minister made the remarks as she hit back at Ruth Davidson who claimed there was a cover-up over parts of Salmond’s evidence and that the Scottish Parliament itself is being damaged by fall-out from the saga.

Sturgeon, who is due to give evidence to MSPs next week, denied any cover up and said she had addressed points that the Scottish Tory leader raised over a meeting the First Minister had with Salmond in April 2018 and with his former chief of staff three days earlier in her written evidence.

She said that scrutiny of her actions was legitimate but added: “What is not legitimate is to pursue a conspiracy theory, a scorched earth policy that threatens the reputation and the integrity of Scotland’s independent justice institution just because you happen to dislike the Government and to sacrifice all of that, if I may say so Presiding Officer, on the altar of the ego of one man.”

A scorched earth policy is a military strategy that aims to destroy anything that might be useful to the enemy. Any assets that could be used by the enemy may be targeted, which usually includes obvious weapons, transport vehicles, communication sites, and industrial resources.

The First Minister did not mention the goal of independence which both she and Salmond share, but the feud comes weeks away from the Holyrood election with the SNP seeking a fourth term in government and a new mandate for a second referendum. Among the Yes movement there are concerns the ongoing row between Salmond and Sturgeon could hamper this key objective.

The exchange at First Minister’s Questions yesterday comes as Salmond is due to appear today before the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s unlawful investigation of sexual harassment claims made against him.

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The former First Minister pulled out of a scheduled evidence session on Wednesday after the Scottish Parliament belatedly redacted his written submission the day before he was due to appear.

Holyrood’s Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints duly agreed to invite Salmond to give evidence in person tomorrow – an offer the former SNP leader has now accepted.

He is expected to give evidence on the botched investigation and face questions about his allegations that Sturgeon has misled Parliament and breached the Ministerial Code.

In his written submission, Salmond named people he claims were involved in a “malicious and concerted” attempt to see him removed from public life, and described the Crown Office – the body responsible for prosecuting crimes in Scotland – as “simply not fit for purpose”.

Sturgeon insisted previously there is “not a shred of evidence” that there was a conspiracy against Salmond, and she has denied lying to Parliament. 

The committee was set up to examine the Scottish Government’s botched investigation of sexual harassment allegations against Salmond.

He successfully challenged the lawfulness of the investigation at the Court of Session –Scotland’s highest civil court – and it was found to be “tainted by apparent bias” because the investigating officer had prior contact with two of the women who made complaints. He was subsequently awarded a £512,250 payout.

Salmond was later acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault in a criminal trial.

During heated exchanges in the Holyrood chamber yesterday Sturgeon also insisted she has no regrets about ensuring complaints against her predecessor were investigated – despite the “difficulties” it has caused.

She denied suggestions that the identity of one of the complainers had been revealed to Geoff Aberdein, Salmond’s former chief of staff, at a meeting in the Scottish Parliament in March 2018.

That meeting took place just days before Salmond met Sturgeon at her home – when she insists she learned of the complaints for the first time, although Salmond claims by saying this she is misleading Parliament.

With the Parliament being told by the Crown to remove some of Salmond’s written evidence hours after it was published, Davidson, said: “This sorry affair isn’t just tarnishing the First Minister’s reputation, it is damaging the institutions that it is her responsibility to uphold.”

Scottish Labour interim leader, Jackie Baillie, also pressed her on the matter that the identity of one of the female complainers had been given to Aberdein. Baillie said: “This is about the women, the women who were failed by the Government’s botched handling of their complaints. A complainant was named, that is not a conspiracy theory, that is a fundamental breakdown in trust.

“It is beyond belief that anyone would tell the name of a complainant to the former chief of staff of Alex Salmond, which was then passed on to Mr Salmond. It is a gross breach of confidentiality.”

The Labour MSP added: “We have seen this week that there is something rotten at the core of the SNP, and it is poisoning our democratic institutions.”

Sturgeon hit back: “For somebody in my position, somebody hearing what my predecessor, close colleague, friend of 30 years was accused of, the easier thing to do perhaps, perhaps the thing that in days gone by would have been done, was to sweep these complaints under the carpet and not to allow them to be properly investigated.

“I opted not to do that. And whatever difficulties have happened since then, whatever pain has been caused to lots of people in this process, I don’t regret not sweeping the complaints under the carpet, because that was the right thing to do.”