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SNP slammed for ‘secrecy’ as government told to publish IndyRef2 legal guidance

First minister Nicola Sturgeon.
First minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The Scottish Government has been ordered to release legal advice on holding a second independence referendum – but denied it was against the rules to  withhold it in the first place.

SNP leaders previously hinted they could challenge Boris Johnson’s Tories in court if they are not allowed to hold a rerun of the 2014 vote.

Westminster has repeatedly snubbed calls from Nicola Sturgeon for a referendum to take place before the end of 2023.

The first minister intends to pass legislation in Holyrood granting IndyRef2, but could face a legal battle with the UK Government.

The Scotsman revealed the country’s information commissioner has now demanded they release parts of their advice from legal experts.

The government insisted it was right by initially stopping advice from being disclosed to the public.

The administration said it is a “longstanding convention” for legal guidance to remain confidential except in “exceptional circumstances”.

‘Culture of secrecy’

However, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross claimed there is an “unacceptable culture of secrecy” at the heart of the SNP government.

He said: “The advice given to ministers on the legal validity of a second independence referendum is demonstrably in the public interest.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has said Conservative-run councils won't introduce the Workplace Parking Levy
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross.

“The failed attempt by Nicola Sturgeon and co to hush this up is just the latest example of a government prepared to go to any lengths to avoid scrutiny.”

Meanwhile, Labour said the government was trying to “stifle scrutiny” by refusing to release the advice.

‘Rebuke for SNP’

MSP Sarah Boyack said: “This ruling is another rebuke for this secretive SNP government.

“The public have a right to see this information about their future and the SNP must release it right away.”

Information commissioner Daren Fitzhenry said publishing the advice could help “enhance public debate” on the independence question.

The Scottish Government may appeal the ruling and said they were “considering its terms”.

A spokesperson said: “We are clear the Scottish Government has acted lawfully in its application of freedom of information legislation.

“There is a long-standing convention, observed by UK Governments and Scottish Governments, that government does not disclose legal advice, including whether law officers have or have not advised on any matter, except in exceptional circumstances.

“The content of any such advice is confidential and subject to legal professional privilege. This ensures that full and frank legal advice can be given.”

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