Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Campbell Gunn: Scottish Government hurting itself over Salmond inquiry

Campbell Gunn.

It’s now almost two months since I wrote in these pages that it was high time the Scottish Government did the honourable thing and released all the papers required by the parliamentary committee examining what went wrong with the botched judicial review into the allegations against former First Minister Alex Salmond.

Mr Salmond, remember, won his judicial review against the Scottish Government at the Court of Session, and his legal team (not Mr Salmond himself, it should be pointed out) were awarded more than £600,000 in costs.

This sum was an “uplift” from the usual percentage of costs awarded to a successful litigant because of the conduct of the opposing party – in this case, the Scottish Government. Mind you, even this uplift did not go anywhere near covering the actual costs incurred by Mr Salmond’s team.

In order for the committee to know who is responsible for the bill, they need to know what legal advice the Scottish Government was given and, crucially, at what stage of their deliberations they received it. This is vital for the committee to understand. This bill, remember, was paid by you and me, the Scottish taxpayer.

Could the government have abandoned their case months earlier than they did? Should they have accepted Mr Salmond’s legal team’s repeated offers of mediation or arbitration? We don’t know, because the Scottish Government won’t tell us.”

Campbell Gunn

Incidentally, one of the things that regularly annoys me about media coverage of the committee’s deliberations is that it’s usually described as “the Salmond inquiry”. In fact, it’s an inquiry into the Scottish Government’s introduction of what was proved in court to be a deeply flawed complaints process, nothing to do (in theory, at any rate) with Mr Salmond.

We still don’t know what the internal costs were for the Scottish Government – the cost of hiring external lawyers, the time spent on the case by the government’s own lawyers, and the hundreds of hours the case must have taken up for ordinary civil servants, not to mention special advisers and ministers. In reality, the cost to the taxpayer must be well in excess of £1 million.

Former First Minister Alex Salmond.

So who allowed the case to rumble on when it was patently obvious that the Scottish Government was going to lose? At what point did internal or external legal advisers tell civil servants or ministers that the game was up? Could the government have abandoned their case months earlier than they did? Should they have accepted Mr Salmond’s legal team’s repeated offers of mediation or arbitration? We don’t know, because the Scottish Government won’t tell us.

It’s the government’s decision not to do so. Legal advice belongs not to the lawyer giving it, but to the recipient – in this case, the Scottish Government. It claims there’s a “convention” that governments do not publish legal advice given to them, yet it’s just that, a convention, not a law, and ministers have already released such advice on at least three previous occasions.

The ‘obfuscation’ of the Lord Advocate

At the parliamentary committee’s most recent meeting last week, the obfuscation employed by Lord Advocate James Wolffe when answering MSPs’ questions was breath-taking. Indeed, MSPs were not slow in saying so.

Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC gives evidence at Holyrood to a Scottish Parliament committee examining the handling of harassment allegations against former first minister Alex Salmond.

Since then things have deteriorated even further. The committee meets again today and wanted to interview two senior civil service witnesses, Judith Mackinnon and Gillian Russell, both of whom who have direct knowledge of what went on during the setting up of the complaints process. However, their appearance before the committee has been blocked by Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who told the committee that their appearance would create an unacceptable risk of the names of complainers being identified.

I simply cannot see the logic in the Scottish Government’s position. If, as they say, they have nothing to hide, then surely they shouldn’t hide things. Do ministers, advisers and senior civil servants have any conception of how their current position looks from the outside?”

Campbell Gunn

His refusal was described by various members of the committee, from all parties, including the SNP convener, as “unacceptable” and “outrageous”. If identification was a concern, the committee could have gone into private session. Committee convener Linda Fabiani is a competent chairwoman and could have stopped matters if it seemed they might be straying into dangerous legal territory.

I simply cannot see the logic in the Scottish Government’s position. If, as they say, they have nothing to hide, then surely they shouldn’t hide things. Do ministers, advisers and senior civil servants have any conception of how their current position looks from the outside?

When I was involved in the case as media spokesperson for Mr Salmond two years ago, during the judicial review, few, if any, of my former press colleagues actually believed any of the “Salmond conspiracy” allegations. Now most of them do. And that change in attitude is entirely down to the way the Scottish Government has dealt with the parliamentary committee.

Of course, we are still to hear from some of the main players in the drama, including the First Minister, her chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, and Mr Salmond himself.

I’ll get the popcorn.


Campbell Gunn is a retired political editor who served as special adviser to two first ministers of Scotland.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

[[title]]

[[text]]