Nicola Sturgeon is facing the biggest threat to her political career as she prepares to be grilled by the Alex Salmond Inquiry this morning.
The First Minister will be quizzed about bombshell claims by her predecessor she misled parliament over her Government’s unlawful harassment probe into him.
A Holyrood committee is investigating the SNP Government’s spectacular mishandling of sexual misconduct complaints against Salmond when he was in office.
Salmond pursued a judicial review and the Government accepted the internal probe had been unlawful and tainted by apparent bias.
The fiasco cost the public purse over £600,000, destroyed the relationship between Salmond and Sturgeon and ignited a bitter civil war in the SNP.
Salmond was separately acquitted of sexual offences after a trial last year.
He has alleged Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell and Chief of Staff Liz Lloyd were among those who plotted against him and tried to have him jailed.
This is the extraordinary backdrop to Sturgeon’s appearance at the Inquiry - one of the most dramatic events in the history of the Scottish Parliament.
Here are the five key issues facing the First Minister.
Why did Sturgeon meet Salmond repeatedly?
Central to today’s hearing are the meetings and phone calls between Salmond and Sturgeon during the live investigation in 2018. The first one took place on April 2nd 2018, at her house.
Even some of the First Minister’s allies in the SNP concede privately she made a mistake in meeting him, as it could look like favouritism. Would she have met anyone else under investigation by her Government?
In her written evidence, she tried to explain the backdrop to the meetings: “Mr Salmond has been closer to me than probably any other person outside my family for the past 30 years, and I was being told he was very upset and wanted to see me personally.”
When did she learn about the allegations?
Sturgeon initially told Parliament Salmond informed her at the April summit, but in her written evidence she later claimed to have forgotten about a key meeting days earlier with his former chief of staff.
She wrote: “I had forgotten that this encounter had taken place until I was reminded of it in, I think, late January/early February 2019. For context, I think the meeting took place not long after the weekly session of FMQs and in the midst of a busy day in which I would have been dealing with a multitude of other matters.
“However, from what I recall, the discussion covered the fact that Alex Salmond wanted to see me urgently about a serious matter, and I think it did cover the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature.”
MSPs will inevitably ask her how it was possible to forget about such a critical meeting.
Has she breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct?
Salmond believes so. In his written evidence, the former First Minister wrote: “The failure to account for the meeting on 29th March 2018 when making a statement to Parliament, and thereafter failing to correct that false representation is a further breach of the Ministerial Code.”
He also alleged that the “failure” to inform civil servants “timeously” about their meetings amounted to a breach.
Salmond also said Sturgeon’s “repeated representation” of the April 2nd summit as being a party meeting was “false and manifestly untrue”.
Sturgeon rejects the claims of a breach.
Was there a conspiracy?
Salmond believes there was a plot against him, including by Sturgeon’s husband, once it became apparent he would win his judicial review.
However, Sturgeon had rubbished these claims. She said Salmond inhabits an “alternative reality” in which the SNP, civil service, Crown Office, police and female complainers were all part of some “wild conspiracy”.
She added: "Maybe that's easier than just accepting that at the root of all this might just have been issues in his own behaviour. But that's for him to explain if he ever decides to pitch up and sit in front of the committee."
Is she in trouble over her Government’s legal advice on the judicial review?
A key part of this scandal is that over £600,000 of taxpayers’ money was lost as a result of the botched probe. Ministers twice refused to release the legal advice they received during the judicial review after votes in Parliament.
The Government performed a u-turn this week after it became apparent that Deputy First Minister John Swinney’s job was on the line.
Swinney has admitted lawyers had “reservations” about the judicial review in late October 2018, but the case was only conceded two months later. How much did the delay cost the taxpayer?