Friday, 16 Apr 2021

Nicola Sturgeon’s deputy faces damaging no-confidence vote in hours – SNP chaos erupts

Alex Salmond inquiry: Jackie Baillie slams committee

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The vote concerning Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney has been scheduled for Wednesday with opposition parties set to back the Scottish Conservatives. The party, led by Douglas Ross, initially tabled the motion two weeks ago as a threat to John Swinney in the hope he would release legal advice given to the Scottish Government before it decided to concede the judicial review brought by Alex Salmond after its botched handling of complaints against him.

The Scottish Government’s investigation of the unproven allegations against Mr Salmond was found to be “tainted by apparent bias” by Scotland’s Court of Session.

Mr Salmond was awarded £512,250 for legal costs after he successfully challenged the lawfulness of the government investigation.  

The former SNP leader was also separately acquitted of all 13 charges of sexual assault against him in a criminal trial.

A Holyrood committee is now looking into the Scottish Government’s mishandling of the case and took evidence from Mr Salmond and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. 

MSPs twice voted to compel the Scottish Government to release the documents but were initially ignored by the SNP led administration.

However, after the threat of a no-confidence motion, Mr Swinney released some advice in parts.

The legal advice released throughout last week revealed the Scottish Government’s Counsel warned Mr Salmond’s case was “more likely to fail than succeed” on October 31, 2018 and “the least worst option” would be to concede on December 6, 2018.

The legal advice also revealed that Roddy Dunlop QC, the Scottish Government’s Senior Counsel also asked the Scottish Government not to “plough on regardless” with the case in correspondence on December 17, 2018.

Lawyers had warned of problems as early as September 26, 2018 when senior and junior counsel advised of a “real risk that the Court may be persuaded” by a legal challenge “attacking various aspects of the investigation process”.

On December 17, 2018, Mr Dunlop and the Scottish Government’s Solicitor Advocate Christine O’Neill said they were “firmly of the view that at least one of the challenges mounted by the petitioner (Mr Salmond) will be successful”.

 

Mr Dunlop, who is Dean of Scotland’s Faculty of Advocates, also made clear the risks of proceeding with the case to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

But the Scottish Government insisted on fighting the case and did not concede to Mr Salmond until January 8, 2019.

In addition to the legal advice, the Committee on the Scottish Government of Harassment Complaints asked the Scottish Government to release the official records of meetings between Nicola Sturgeon, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans and the Scottish Government’s legal counsel about the investigation. 

These were held on November 2 and November 13, 2018.

But in a letter to the Committee, Mr Swinney said the Scottish Government “have not identified any record of minutes having been prepared or previously held”.

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But he admitted: “Officials have identified a small number of contemporaneous email exchanges referencing these meetings.”

Responding in another letter sent to Mr Swinney this evening, the Committee said they needed the minutes to be able to reassure themselves that they have received all relevant information relating to the Salmond inquiry.

Convenor Linda Fabiani added the Committee did not understand “how in the interests of good governance, the Scottish Government would not create and keep records of such crucial meetings.”

The Scottish Conservatives however decided to press on with their bid to oust the Deputy First Minister however despite releasing the legal advice. 

Scottish Labour deputy leader and committee member Jackie Baillie said the party would “have no choice” but to back the vote if Mr Swinney didn’t release the minutes in due course.

Ms Baillie added: “This drip, drip, drip of partial information, at the last minute, is simply unacceptable.

“The idea that no notes were taken of several important meetings with counsel, including one with the First Minister and Permanent Secretary, is frankly laughable.”

Alex Salmond says leak ‘does require further police investigation’

Douglas Ross MP, Scottish Conservatives leader said: “The case for the vote of no confidence in John Swinney is clear to any impartial observer.

“We can no longer trust him to do the right thing. He has abused his power to cover up crucial evidence.”

Scottish Lib Dems leader Willie Rennie MSP said the party would back the vote stressing the SNP politician must be “reprimanded” for his behaviour.

He added this afternoon: “Ignoring votes, holding back papers and delaying the publication of documents until after the First Minister had given evidence and now failing to minute important meetings shows a fundamental disrespect for democracy.

“Anyone who values this parliament must vote to reprimand the Deputy First Minister’s behaviour.”

But the Scottish Greens described the vote as “opportunistic political theatre” and pulled out of backing the motion.

Mr Ross has said the lack of support for the vote from the Greens is proof the party will “let the [Scottish Government] away with anything”.

In response, a spokesman for Mr Swinney said: “This motion has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with grubby Tory politicking – they were always going to push this to a vote regardless of what information the committee received.”

 

 

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