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‘They cave’: John Swinney says Salmond legal advice will be released

John Swinney legal advice
Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

John Swinney has been forced by opposition MSPs to reveal the Scottish Government’s legal advice during the Alex Salmond civil case it lost.

The government confirmed the details would be shared with the committee investigating the botched probe into Mr Salmond on Tuesday.

The evidence has been viewed as key to the work of the inquiry but the government had previously insisted it remain secret, despite two votes of parliament demanding its release.

However, a rethink was announced after it became clear that opposition parties had enough votes to pass a “no confidence” motion in Mr Swinney, the deputy first minister.

Mr Swinney said: “In normal circumstances, government legal advice is not released. Indeed, such is the importance of being able to get frank, private advice, it is almost unheard of for the legal advice to be released.

“But, we have to acknowledge that the issues at stake now are not normal. The very integrity of the legal system is being questioned.

“Serious allegations have been made. This material allows people to confirm that these allegations are false.

“We have already shared in private with the Scottish Parliament’s committee on these issues the substance of the advice.

“Now, we recognise that in order to counter to the false claims being made by some, we must go further. Subject to the mandatory legal checks and processes, we will release the key legal advice.”

‘Writing on the wall’

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, who sits on the Salmond committee, tweeted: “What a shameless opportunistic bunch this SNP Government are.

“They ignore two votes in Parliament demanding the legal advice is published, and it’s only when the Deputy FM sees the writing on the wall that they cave. Disgraceful contempt of Parliament.”

Former first minister Alex Salmond makes his opening statement to the Scottish Parliament harassment committee.

Inquiry nears conclusion

The motion had been lodged by the Scottish Conservatives as the inquiry into the handling of allegations against Mr Salmond nears its conclusion.

Following the former first minister’s evidence on Friday, Lord Advocate James Wolffe is expected to appear again before the committee on Tuesday, followed by the final witness, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, on Wednesday.

The Holyrood committee was set up after Mr Salmond received a £512,000 pay-out following the Court of Session civil ruling that the Scottish Government’s handling of the complaints was “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross.

‘The public deserves to know what happened’

Confirming the motion, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said earlier on Monday: “Women were let down and more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money was lost.

“The public deserves to know what happened and the legal advice is crucial to uncovering what mistakes were made.

“We gave John Swinney one more opportunity to respect the will of the Scottish Parliament. He has failed to do so.

“Opposition parties have united twice already to demand the legal advice is released. We now call on them to do so a third time.

“We are still willing to withdraw this motion at any point, if the government respects the will of the Scottish Parliament and publishes the legal advice.”

The make-up of the parliament means that, had a vote taken place, it could have come down to the Scottish Greens.

Scottish Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie.

Scottish Greens

Also speaking earlier on Monday, a spokesman for the Scottish Greens said: “The Scottish Greens have previously voted to ensure that the government’s legal advice is made available to the committee inquiry, and this remains our position.

“The committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints has made it clear that it needs access to the Scottish Government’s legal advice on its investigation into Alex Salmond to fulfil their remit, and parliament has repeatedly backed the committee.

“The Scottish Government now has just days left to agree the terms of the committee’s access to the information requested.

“Reaching an agreement on this which is acceptable to the committee is clearly the only way to avoid a vote of no confidence.

“The Conservatives have been shameless opportunists throughout this process, but the Scottish Greens will always defend the integrity of the Scottish Parliament and its ability to hold government accountable.

“This inquiry should be focused on identifying what went wrong with the investigation into sexual harassment, and on the interests of the women who were failed by the process and others who will need to have confidence in the complaints process in future.”

‘It’s a straight choice’

Speaking before Mr Swinney’s decision to release the legal advice, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Nicola Sturgeon has no choice but to order John Swinney to publish the advice in public and in full.

“If she does not she will lose her Deputy First Minister, who is an important pillar of her government. It’s a straight choice: John Swinney or the legal advice in full and in public.

“The committee have already been offered a private viewing of the legal advice but for it to be useful they need to be able to cite it and publish extracts in their report.

“Providing bits of the advice and only to the committee in private is no use whatsoever.

“Liberal Democrats will have no choice but to vote to remove John Swinney if he continues to ignore parliament. It is the only leverage we have over the government.”