Nicola Sturgeon could resign as First Minister in a matter of 'weeks' over the toxic Alex Salmond debacle, the Scottish Tory leader has said.
Douglas Ross believes that if Ms Sturgeon is proved to have lied to the Scottish Parliament - a breach of the ministerial code - then she should 'absolutely' resign.
Such a shocking development could leave the SNP without a leader in Scotland ahead of the local elections in May, where the party is still expected to be victorious.
But speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Ross said the long-running scandal over the handling of complaints into Mr Salmond had brought 'sleaze and scandal to the heart of Scottish politics'.
Yesterday, Mr Salmond lashed out at Nicola Sturgeon for flouting the ministerial code and launching 'astonishing' attacks on him during a more than four-hour evidence session with the inquiry into the handling of complaints made against him.
Giving explosive evidence to a Parliamentary probe, the former First Minister criticised Ms Sturgeon for casting doubt on the court process that cleared him over harassment allegations, and suggested she broke conduct rules. She denies the allegations.
Nicola Sturgeon could resign as First Minister in a matter of 'weeks' over the serious allegations she lied to the Scottish Parliament about the inquiry into her predecessor Alex Salmond (pictured), the Scottish Tory leader has said
Douglas Ross believes that if Ms Sturgeon is proved to have lied to the Scottish Parliament - a breach of the ministerial code - then she should 'absolutely' resign
He complained of failures of 'leadership' and an effort to 'tarnish my reputation' as he insisted the rule of law was being put at risk.
Evidence had been 'deliberately suppressed' he said - insisting that there would not have been the same censorship at Westminster.
He also alleged that 'pressure' had been put on the police and witnesses during the criminal case, including by Ms Sturgeon's husband Peter Murrell, the SNP chief executive.
The bruising evidence has raised serious questions about Ms Sturgeon's leadership and involvement in the inquiry into Salmond.
She faces a separate inquiry into whether she broke the ministerial code by lying to parliament about when she first heard of the allegations against Mr Salmond in 2018.
Mr Salmond said Ms Sturgeon had been informed of the complaints against him by March 29, 2018 at the latest - rather than four days later (April 2) as she originally claimed.
'We have lost first ministers through resignations here in Scotland for far less than what Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of,' Mr Ross told the publication ahead of Mr Salmond's evidence.
'I think there is a lot to come not just this year but in the next few weeks that would really threaten her as the head of the SNP and as First Minister. And that’s before we even get into the election campaign.'
Mr Ross also urged the Cabinet Office to investigate whether Scottish civil servants broke the code of conduct in their handling of complaints against Alex Salmond.
He gave particular mention of Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, Scotland's top civil servant, who oversaw the inquiry into Mr Salmond that described by a judge as unlawful, 'procedurally unfair' and 'tainted by apparent bias'.
The mishandling of complaints led to Mr Salmond winning a judicial review which award him more than £500,000 for legal expenses.
Her line manager is effectively Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary and head of the UK civil service, meaning he has the power to look into her conduct.
'Leslie Evans has to be answerable for her conduct and the questions that will arise from the Scottish Parliament committee,' Mr Ross told The Telegraph
He added that once the Scottish parliament had concluded it's work, UK civil service chiefs should look into what happened.
Labour interim Scottish leader Jackie Baillie agreed that Alex Salmond's evidence to a Holyrood committee 'poses serious questions for Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government'.
Alex Salmond leaves the Scottish Parliament on February 26 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He gave evidence to a Parliamentary probe into the handling of complaints made against him
Allegations, discussions, denials and a 'forgotten' key meeting between Sturgeon and Salmond
November 2017: Allegations regarding Alex Salmond's behaviour are raised with the SNP by Sky News.
Nicola Sturgeon said she spoke to him about this – and he 'denied it'. No further action was taken.
March 29, 2018: Ms Sturgeon meets Geoff Aberdein - Mr Salmon's chief of staff - in her Scottish parliament office where she has admitted they discussed the possibility of a meeting with Mr Salmond. Ms Sturgeon – after initially forgetting about this meeting – says there was 'the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature'.
April 2, 2018: Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond meet at the First Minister's home. According to Ms Sturgeon, this is the first time she heard of the complaints made against him. Despite this, she has insisted that the matters discussed were party business.
September 14, 2018: A judicial review is launched after complaints by Mr Salmond over the fairness with how the claims against him were handled.
January 8, 2019: The Scottish government conceded defeat in the judicial review a week before it was due to launch. Mr Salmond wins £500,000 in legal fees. The court ruled the probe into Mr Salmond had been unlawful and tainted by apparent bias.
January 2019: Ms Sturgeon tells MSPs that Mr Salmond first told her about a probe into him on April 2.
March 23, 2020: Alex Salmond is cleared of all sexual assault charges and his supporters demanded a full inquiry into the Scottish Government's handling of the scandal.
October 7, 2020: Ms Sturgeon claims she 'forgot' about March 29, 2018, meeting with Mr Aberdein.
January 24, 2021: Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Ms Sturgeon denies misleading the Scottish Parliament after 'forgetting' to tell MSPs about her meeting with Mr Salmond's aide on March 29, 2018.
February 2021: The High Court in Edinburgh rules Mr Salmond's evidence claiming his former chief of staff met with Ms Sturgeon on March 28, 2018, to discuss sexual assault allegations against the former first minister can be released.
Responding to the evidence provided yesterday, Ms Baillie said: 'The former First Minister's testimony to the committee, including his assertion that the First Minister broke the Ministerial Code, poses serious questions for Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government.
'Mr Salmond's allegation that the name of a complainant was made known to his former chief of staff prior to a meeting between him and the First Minister is nothing short of explosive.
'Not only would the act of making the name of a complainant known be a grave failure to protect the person in question, the First Minister's response to this allegation yesterday may have misled Parliament and so broken the Ministerial Code.
'Mr Salmond's claim that the leak of documents to the Daily Record was "politically inspired" is incredibly serious and demands investigation by the Police.
'The claim that during the civil and criminal cases the Crown Office was not made aware of vital documents that have since been passed to the committee by the Scottish Government beggars belief.'
Ms Sturgeon has previously insisted there is 'not a shred of evidence' that there was a conspiracy against Mr Salmond and she has denied lying to Parliament.
She is scheduled to appear before the committee to give evidence next Wednesday.
Ms Baillie added: 'It is clear that Mr Salmond believes the First Minister has failed to follow the Ministerial Code on multiple occasions and that the Permanent Secretary has failed to follow the Civil Service code.
'The First Minister and the Lord Advocate have big questions to answer when they come before the Committee next week.
'I will be encouraging my colleagues on the committee to use our powers to serve a Section 23 notice on Mr Salmond's solicitors so that we may receive vital documents that have so far been withheld from us.
'Mr Salmond was correct when he said that this investigation was not about him, it is about the women who were so catastrophically failed, and this committee is determined to discover who is responsible for this failure however inconvenient that truth may be.'
But a spokesman for the First Minister said yesterday: 'The people of Scotland have shown, in poll after poll and election after election, that they back the leadership of the SNP and of Nicola Sturgeon.
'Today was Alex Salmond's chance to provide proof of the conspiracy which has been alleged - and he did not do so.
'Instead, under oath, he explicitly conceded there was no such evidence against the First Minister, and also gave testimony which directly undermined some of the central planks of the conspiracy theories.
'The First Minister now looks forward to addressing all of the issues Mr Salmond raised - and much more besides - when she finally gets the opportunity to address the committee next week.'
Mr Salmond also suggested the battle has left Scotland unfit to assume independence because it lacked leadership.
In a pointed swipe at Ms Sturgeon, he said: 'Few would dispute that our country is a better place for achieving our parliament.
'However, the move to independence, which I have sought all my political life, and continue to seek, must be accompanied by institutions whose leadership is strong and robust and capable of protecting each and every citizen from arbitrary authority.'
As the temperature rose again today, there were complaints that SNP members of the committee might be dragging out the session in a bid to prevent it getting to key elements.
Alex Salmond is giving evidence to a Holyrood inquiry today amid claims Nicola Sturgeon (pictured yesterday) will have to quit if the former first minister can prove his claims that he was the victim of a conspiracy
Ms Sturgeon has complained that Mr Salmond is spreading a 'dangerous conspiracy theory' by suggesting he was being censored to protect her.
The First Minister said her former political mentor now preferred 'creating an alternative reality' in which the 'organs of the state... were all part of some wild conspiracy' against him.
She also denied having any influence over the Crown Office's decision to request that his statement be redacted as her government faces growing accusations of corruption.
The huge row is threatening to derail Ms Sturgeon's push for another independence referendum with just two months until crucial Holyrood elections - and there are claims she will have to resign if Mr Salmond's accusations are backed up.
In his evidence, Mr Salmond was asked about text messages between senior SNP figures including Mr Murrell.
He said: 'What they speak to is behaviour which I would never have countenanced from people I have known in some cases for 30 years.
'In my opinion there has been behaviour which is about not just pressuring the police… and pressurising witnesses, collusion with witnesses. We're talking about the construction of evidence because the police somehow were felt to be inadequate in finding it themselves.
'The point about this is that on the 25 of August I think it was 2018 a police investigation started, when a police investigation starts these matters are for the police. They have the investigatory function.
'They don't need assistance from Inspector Murrell... Whether people are in the Scottish government or the SNP they have no investigative function. It's a matter for the police.
Mr Salmond is giving evidence in the Robert Burns Room in person this afternoon rather than over video link
'Not only shouldn't they be doing anything other than supporting the police in their activities but they certainly shouldn't be seeking to pressurise.'
On the claims about when Ms Sturgeon knew about the allegations he faced, Mr Salmond said: 'My position is that the meeting on the 2nd April was arranged on the 29th of March. I know this because Geoff Aberdeen phoned me on the 28th March the day before the meeting to say it was going to take place. And he phoned me the day after the meeting to tell me that the meeting had been arranged for the 2nd April…
'Self-evidently the only person who can invite you to their home is the First Minister.
'I heard Mr Murrell saying several times that I was regularly popping in. I just point out that I stay 200 miles away from Glasgow.
What are the key issues in the row engulfing SNP?
How and why did the Scottish government mishandle allegations against Alex Salmond?
The Scottish government launched an investigation in 2017 after two women made formal complaints against Alex Salmond.
He launched legal action against the government's handling of the investigation and won a judicial review in January 2019, receiving £512,000 to cover his legal fees.
The parliamentary inquiry is examining how ministers and civil servants conducted the probe.
Mr Salmond was charged with 13 counts of sexual assault, including attempted rape, but was acquitted of all charges in March 2020.
Mr Salmond has claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy by senior SNP figures to end his role in public life.
What did Nicola Sturgeon know and when?
Ms Sturgeon originally told MSPs she learned of complaints against Mr Salmond on April 2, 2018, when the pair met at her house.
That meeting is crucial as it is unclear whether it was SNP business, or government business - which should have been officially recorded.
Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP and Ms Sturgeon's husband, initially said he was not at home, but later revealed that he arrived home during the discussion.
He insists he did not ask what they were talking about.
Ms Sturgeon has also admitted she 'forgot' about a discussion with Mr Salmond's ex-chief of staff four days earlier where they talked about the issue.
The ministerial code says that 'ministers who knowingly mislead the parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the First Minister'.
Ms Sturgeon is facing a separate independent investigation led by James Hamilton, who has to decide if she broke the ministerial code. However, it is thought that she is the final arbiter of whether the code has been breached.
Does Mr Salmond have evidence of a conspiracy against him?
Mr Salmond has said he is the victim of a 'prolonged, malicious' conspiracy by senior SNP and government figures.
He has suggested Mr Murrell was part of efforts to damage him.
Ms Sturgeon has demanded he presents hard evidence that is the case. However, he insisted today that he is not in the dock and the government has already conceded it acted illegally.
Why was Mr Salmond's evidence to the inquiry redacted?
Mr Salmond's submission to the inquiry was released online on Monday, but the Crown Office raised concerns with Holyrood about it, asking for redactions.
He has raised questions about why the step was taken and whether it amounted to inappropriate interference.
'As far as I can remember I've been to Nicola and Peter's home six times in my life. Maybe slightly more but it's not a question of just popping in.'
Mr Salmond said the four day difference might not sound significant, but if Ms Sturgeon knew about the allegations on March 29 she could not credibly argue that the April 2 meeting had been for SNP business rather than government business.
Under the ministerial code she should have corrected the record much earlier, he suggested, and there should have been an official record.
He said he had no indication that Ms Sturgeon had been part of a conspiracy to damage him.
Labour's Jackie Baillie asked Mr Salmond to confirm the timeline of events and about Mr Murrell's previous comments that the April 2 meeting was a 'Government matter'.
'Clearly before the April 2, when you were going to visit the First Minister in her home, you knew that there were complaints against you and you knew the name of one of the complainants,' she said.
'You had already established with other colleagues that you weren't resigning from the SNP.
'So when Peter Murrell said it was a government matter, and Nicola Sturgeon said it was a party matter, it would appear that Peter Murrell was right on this occasion?'
Mr Salmond replied: 'It was a government matter, it was about the complaints against me.'
Mr Salmond said earlier: 'I have no incentive or advantage in revisiting the hurt and shock of the last three years from a personal perspective.
'Or, indeed, from the perspective of two complainants, failed by the government.'
The former first minister added: 'For two years and six months, this has been a nightmare.
'I have every desire to move on, to turn the page, to resist talking yet again about a series of events which have been amongst the most wounding that any person can face.
'But the reason I am here today is because we can't turn that page, nor move on, until the decision-making which is undermining the system of government in Scotland is addressed.'
Mr Salmond claimed his ability to give evidence had been 'severely hampered' by the Crown Office.
The former first minister pointed to two orders which restricted what could be said in front of the Holyrood committee.
He said: 'The application of these provisions and threat of prosecution made to me if I offered that evidence is, in my estimation, both extraordinary and unwarranted.'
Mr Salmond insisted: 'This inquiry is not about me, I have already established the illegality of the actions of the Scottish Government in the Court of Session, and I have been acquitted of all criminal charges by a jury in the highest court in the land.
'These are both the highest courts in the land, the highest criminal court and the highest civil court.
'The remit of this inquiry is about the actions of others, whose investigation into the conduct of ministers, the Permanent Secretary, civil servants and special advisers.
'It also requires to shine a light on the activities of the Crown Office.'
He went on to claim that the committee in its inquiry had been 'systematically deprived of the evidence it has legitimately sought'.
Mr Salmond said 'some consequences' should follow on from 'unlawful conduct'.
'I think the leadership of these institutions have serious questions to answer,' he told the inquiry.
'When you get to the stage that a government behaves unlawfully – I mean, this is not something that happens very often.
'I'm on the record politically, when governments have behaved unlawfully, of regarding matters a huge and heinous thing to have happened. It's not a slight matter.
'Some consequences should follow from unlawful conduct.'
Mr Salmond refused to engage with efforts by committee members to probe his behaviour while First Minister - insisting the courts had settled the matter by clearing him.
Maureen Watt, an SNP MSP, said: 'We've heard evidence on one of the matters which eventually resulted in a complaint against you was resolved by you apologising to the woman in question.
'Was it typical for issues like this to be resolved by apology?'
Before: Mr Salmond's testimony made claims against Ms Sturgeon and her office which have now been redacted
After: The Scottish Parliament redacted the most damning parts of Mr Salmond's bombshell evidence against Ms Sturgeon
Mr Salmond said: 'I have had three years, Ms Watt, of two court cases, two judges, one jury.
'As far as these matters are concerned, I will leave it to the courts and the jury, and I'm not going to be drawn in further than that.
'The vast majority of issues were dealt with by informal procedures.'
Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton asked Mr Salmond: 'I want to ask, laying aside the charges of which you have been acquitted, and the allegations that you deny, of the behaviours that you have admitted to, some of which are appalling, are you sorry?'
Mr Salmond replied: 'In my statement I pointed out the Government's illegality has had huge consequences for a number of people, and specifically mentioned the complainants in my opening statement.
'Over the last three years, there have been two court cases, two judges and a jury, and I'm resting on the proceedings of these cases.'
Mr Salmond questioned the Scottish Government's decision to apply new anti-harassment procedures – drawn up in the wake of the MeToo movement – to former ministers.
Independent MSP Andy Wightman asked if Mr Salmond had challenged this aspect because 'you felt it was not competent ever to investigate complaints of historical sexual harassment as a matter of principle, or because you felt the allegations against you shouldn't be investigated?'
The former SNP leader told him that 'if nothing else had been wrong with policy, and as we both know there were many, many things wrong with policy, it may well have fallen on the question of retrospectivity'.
He insisted people to whom policies could be applied retrospectively would 'normally be consulted or give their approval in some way' about such a move.
Mr Salmond said: 'There was a letter, which emerged quite recently, which was meant to be sent to former first ministers, myself included presumably, but I know it wasn't sent to former first ministers.'
He claimed this letter asked former first ministers to consult ministers in their administrations about the change, saying this struck him 'as a quite extraordinary thing to be happening'.
He said he was 'not consulted' about making the new policy retrospective.
Mr Salmond was asked if, prior to November 2017, Ms Sturgeon had raised questions or concerns with him about what she would describe as sexually inappropriate behaviour.
'I have got points to make about what I believe the current First Minister has done or not done, and they will be made in response to relevant questions, relevant to the committee,' he told the inquiry.
'But I've seen it pursued on the committee that somehow Nicola Sturgeon was covering up something, that is not the case.'