Tories to lodge no-confidence vote in Swinney over Salmond legal advice

Craig Paton, PA Scotland Political Reporter

The Scottish Tories will this week lodge a motion of no confidence in Deputy First Minister John Swinney over the publication of legal advice, the party has announced.

On two occasions, MSPs have voted to compel the Scottish Government to produce legal advice taken as part of the legal challenge brought by Alex Salmond over its harassment complaints procedure, but ministers have so far not handed the advice over.

The Scottish Government went on to concede the judicial review into the investigation of Mr Salmond, which Judge Lord Pentland said was “tainted with apparent bias”.

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In a letter to Linda Fabiani, the convener of the committee looking into the handling of complaints against Mr Salmond, in December, Mr Swinney said he was keen to find a “practical way” that the advice could be handed over to the committee, but no such arrangement has been put in place.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said the move was to give the Scottish Government “one last chance” to release the advice, and they would “gladly” rescind it should the advice be released.

He said: “Twice, opposition parties united to call for the legal advice to be released. The cross-party Holyrood committee have pleaded with the Government to produce it.

“The Government said they would listen but they clearly have not. The legal advice remains hidden.

“This evidence is crucial to uncovering the specific mistakes that lost more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money and let the women at the heart of this investigation down.

“We urge other opposition parties to support this move. It is not about politics, it’s about getting to the truth of what happened. Without the evidence, that will not happen.”

The Scottish Lib Dems have already said they will support the motion, with MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, a member of the Salmond inquiry, saying: “There is a simple way for John Swinney to avoid another no confidence vote and that is to release the legal advice as parliament has twice made very clear it expects him to do.

“The Scottish Government have gone out of their way to obstruct the investigation into their handling of some very serious allegations.

“This displays contempt for our parliament and a casual disregard for all those who have raised concerns or are considering whether to do so in the future.”

If the motion goes to a vote, it would be the second time in less than a year that Mr Swinney would face such a debate on his position.

In August the Deputy First Minister, who also holds the education portfolio, came under heavy criticism from opposition parties over a scandal that developed around the qualifications process put in place as a result of Covid-19.

Under the new system, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), would moderate teacher-estimated grades, a process that saw more than 124,000 marks downgraded and disproportionately affected those from more impoverished areas.

Mr Swinney survived that vote thanks to the backing of the Scottish Greens.

It is understood that the Greens will wait to see what is said in the motion before making a decision on their vote.

A spokesman for new Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Anas is speaking to colleagues today ahead of his first week as leader.

“But what is clear is that the committee must be able to scrutinise any evidence and Parliament has voted to publish the legal advice – so ministers should end this democratic outrage and hand over the documents.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Government has provided the committee with detailed evidence on its legal position at all the key points of the Judicial Review including the Open Record of the pleadings and over two-and-a-half hours of oral evidence by the Lord Advocate.

“This is in addition to the unprecedented step the Scottish Government took in giving the committee access to a detailed summary of the legal advice on a confidential basis.

“If there is a need to further information, the Scottish Government stands ready to discuss that with the committee.

“We are conscious that we must enable the committee to fulfil its remit without creating a general waiver of legal privilege that could limit the ability of future Scottish Governments to request and receive candid legal advice in future litigation.”