The Scottish Conservatives have made a fresh attempt to compel the Scottish Government to release the legal advice it received for the judicial review on the botched investigation into allegations against Alex Salmond.
After winning a vote calling on the SNP to release the legal advice earlier this month, the Scottish Conservatives will bring a second vote to the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday to demand that the legal advice is published immediately.
A deadline for the evidence to be handed over was previously set for November 13 but Deputy First Minister John Swinney responded to the committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints by saying it was still under consideration.
In his letter, published on November 13, Mr Swinney said ministers were considering arguments MSPs made during the first vote in parliament for why legal professional privilege should be waived in this particular case.
Scotland’s top lawyer, Lord Advocate John Wolffe QC, who appeared before the committee for a second time earlier this week, was continually quizzed by MSPs on the recent decision by the Scottish Parliament to demand the government publish the legal advice it was given.
Mr Wolffe, who in his role as Lord Advocate is the Scottish Government’s chief legal officer, said it was not a normal occurrence to disclose legal advice given to governments by their lawyers.
He listed the three occasions it had been done before — the inquiries into infected blood, historical child abuse and the Edinburgh trams.
When asked if the government had followed the advice given to it by senior counsel ahead of the review, Mr Wolffe said, the Lord Advocate said he would not attribute “any particular advice to any particular individual”.
Mr Salmond was awarded more than £500,000 from the public purse when the Court of Session ruled the way the allegations against him were dealt with was “unlawful” and tinged with “apparent bias”.
‘Disgraceful display of arrogance’
Murdo Fraser, Scottish Conservative spokesman on the Salmond inquiry, said: “It’s a dark day for the Scottish Parliament when the government arrogantly dismisses its will without even lifting a finger.
“The Scottish Conservatives are confident that MSPs of all parties will send a clear message that the government has no choice.
“They must release the legal advice, which would help to explain how more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money was lost to Alex Salmond.
“The SNP think they can ignore scrutiny and get away with it. We’re calling for opposition parties to unite against this disgraceful display of arrogance.”
‘Extensive steps’ to secure release of more documents
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The deputy first minister has clearly set out in his letter to the committee on Friday November 13 the detailed consideration that the government is giving to this issue and also the extensive steps that are being taken to secure the release of further documentation.
“The Lord Advocate provided evidence to the committee on Tuesday about the legal position taken by the Scottish Government during the judicial review.”