John Swinney has admitted the legal advice he will release today shows that “reservations” were raised with the Scottish Government about the Alex Salmond civil case.
However, the deputy first minister also insisted it confirmed that “good public policy arguments and reasonable grounds” were highlighted for the government’s defence.
Mr Swinney wrote to the committee investigating the handling of harassment allegations against Mr Salmond after he was forced to release the advice.
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 against him was “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”.
The legal advice 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 on Monday after it became clear that opposition parties had enough votes to pass a “no confidence” motion in Mr Swinney.
In his letter, Mr Swinney said the legal advice would be given to the committee on Tuesday afternoon.
He said: “The documents confirm that, whilst reservations were raised about the judicial review following the identification of the issue of prior contact with the complainers in late October, there were good public policy arguments and reasonable grounds for the government to continue to defend the judicial review and to seek a determination from the court on the matters raised, until the events of late December 2018.”
So the legal advice that John Swinney claimed would exonerate the government actually confirms that they knew of the fatal flaw months before conceding the case – but ran up a £500,000 bill anyway.
The vote of no confidence stays on the table until all the advice is published. https://t.co/cMXaUDrxv3
— Douglas Ross MP (@Douglas4Moray) March 2, 2021
Mr Swinney’s letter also responded to claims made by Mr Salmond during his evidence to the committee on Friday.
He said: “During his evidence session with the committee on Friday, Mr Salmond also raised an allegation that there was a desire within government to seek to sist the judicial review once the issue of prior contact with the complainers was identified.
“I have asked officials to review the relevant documentation, but they have not identified any documents which support this allegation.”
The committee will hear evidence today from Lord Advocate James Wolffe, and tomorrow from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
‘We will press ahead with the vote of no confidence’
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The legal advice that John Swinney claimed would exonerate the government actually confirms what everyone suspected.
“The government knew of the fatal flaw in their case months before conceding but went on to waste £500,000 of taxpayers’ money, anyway.
“Recklessly continuing with the judicial review when it was doomed would clearly be a breach of the ministerial code. The public deserve to know exactly what mistakes were made.
“John Swinney is not getting away with releasing only the evidence he wants us to see. We will press ahead with the vote of no confidence until all the legal advice is published.
“I’d like to thank other opposition parties for supporting Scottish Conservative moves to have the legal advice released for a third time.
“The government must be held to account and by uniting behind our motion, we will ensure the will of the Scottish Parliament is respected.”