Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is fighting for her political life as she slammed 'utterly irresponsible' calls from Opposition MSPs to resign over her handling of the Alex Salmond sexual harassment case after bombshell legal advice appeared to blow holes in her defence.
The Scottish Conservatives last night vowed to table a confidence vote in the SNP leader after the papers were published on the eve of her appearance at a hearing into the row over allegations levelled at her predecessor.
They showed that the SNP administration knew that the court fight against Mr Salmond brought by the former First Minister in 2018 was doomed three months before he eventually won the case. But they went ahead with the court case anyway, and it ended up with former First Minister Mr Salmond being awarded more than £600,000 in costs and damages.
There have been allegations that failing to heed the opinions of lawyers would have amounted to a breach of the ministerial code, a potential resignation matter.
Last night it also emerged that evidence by two senior figures backed up many of Mr Salmond's claims about Ms Sturgeon in explosive submissions to the Holyrood inquiry over the botched investigation into complaints about him.
Mr Salmond's lawyer Duncan Hamilton and former special adviser Kevin Pringle contradict Ms Sturgeon's submission to a Holyrood inquiry and fuel claims Ms Sturgeon misled the Scottish parliament over what she knew about the harassment claims against Mr Salmond and when.
In an extraordinary statement, Ms Sturgeon denied breaking the ministerial code and called Tory moves to call a no-confidence vote during the pandemic 'utterly irresponsible'.
She will give her full rebuttal today.
A spokeswoman thundered: 'The First Minister will address all of the issues raised - and much more besides - at the committee tomorrow, while the independent adviser on the ministerial code will report in due course.
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.
'It is for the public to decide who they want to govern Scotland and - while we continue to fight the Covid pandemic - with the election campaign starting in just 20 days, that is precisely what they will be able to do.'
Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf rushed to Ms Sturgeon's defence, telling BBC Newsnight: 'No10 [Downing Street] are watching this not because they care about women who come forward to make allegations in relation to sexual harassment, but actually because what they want to do is try to weaken Nicola Sturgeon, weaken the SNP, because there have been 22 polls in a row that have shown that support for independence is the settled will of the Scottish people.'
'In terms of the allegations being made about the Scottish government, I have read a number of spurious conspiracy theories which I'm afraid have been completely built on sand.
They have been washed away.'
The Scottish Conservatives have accused Ms Sturgeon of breaching the ministerial code up to 38 times during the row, with party leader Douglas Ross claiming that the First Minister 'lied to the Scottish Parliament'.
A Tory dossier highlights dozens of instances when they say Ms Sturgeon appears to have broken the ministerial code - including accusations of repeatedly misleading the Scottish Parliament about when she first knew of the allegations against Mr Salmond, delaying settling the judicial review despite legal advice, and meeting Mr Salmond on government business without any officials present or records being taken.
Gordon Brown claimed that the feud between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond is 'bringing the country down', telling ITV News: 'We're worried about the virus, we're worried about the economic recession, I'm worried about people coming together across the whole of Britain to deal with it, and we've got this feud about who said what when, and on the basis of some very bad behaviour.'
Asked if Ms Sturgeon would have to resign if she is found to have broken the ministerial code, the former Prime Minister said: 'If we cannot uphold in public life the highest standards of integrity, and if we cannot trust each other that we will take seriously the vows we make when we go into office, minecraft games then I think anything goes and it becomes anarchy, and I don't think that's the way forward.'
They showed that Ms Sturgeon (pictured yesterday) and the SNP administration knew that its efforts to resist a judicial review brought by Mr Salmond in 2018 over the handling of complaints against him - over which he was exonerated - was likely to fail
In six hours of brutal testimony last week, Alex Salmond laid out a case that senior SNP figures conspired to try to force him out of public life over harassment claims
Nicola Sturgeon (left) has denied breaking the ministerial code and said she will give her full rebuttal today. The Conservative dossier (right) highlights dozens of instances when Ms Sturgeon appears to have broken the ministerial code
<div class="art-ins mol-factbox news halfRHS" data-version="2" id="mol-a336d3f0-7b58-11eb-9d13-d774cb7d7fdf" website Holyrood inquiry: SNP leader fights for her political life