The Scottish Government’s failure to hand over legal advice to MSPs is fuelling theories Alex Salmond has been the victim of a conspiracy, one of his former advisers claims.
Writing in the Press and Journal, Mr Gunn says he is unable to understand the stance Nicola Sturgeon’s administration has taken on the issue.
MSPs on the Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment claims made against Mr Salmond have been angered by the government’s reluctance to hand over the documents.
Mr Gunn expressed his view as the Scottish Conservatives threatened to launch a legal action in a bid to retrieve the information.
So far, the Scottish Government has yet to submit the legal advice it took in the run up to a successful judicial review taken by Mr Salmond, which found the administration’s internal inquiry into his behaviour was unlawful and tainted with apparent bias.
The government has argued the information is protected by legal privilege.
When I was involved in the case as media spokesperson for Mr Salmond two years ago, during the judicial review, few, if any, of my former press colleagues actually believed any of the ‘Salmond conspiracy’ allegations. Now most of them do. And that change in attitude is entirely down to the way the Scottish Government has dealt with the parliamentary committee.”
Former adviser Campbell Gunn
Mr Salmond’s victory in the civil court case cost the taxpayer more than £500,000 for the former first minister’s legal costs. In a separate criminal trial Mr Salmond was cleared earlier this year of all sex offence charges.
Mr Gunn, who was a special adviser to both Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon, wrote that he simply could not “see the logic” in the Scottish Government’s position.
“If, as they say, they have nothing to hide, then surely they shouldn’t hide things,” Mr Gunn wrote. “Do ministers, advisers and senior civil servants have any conception of how their current position looks from the outside?
“When I was involved in the case as media spokesperson for Mr Salmond two years ago, during the judicial review, few, if any, of my former press colleagues actually believed any of the ‘Salmond conspiracy’ allegations. Now most of them do. And that change in attitude is entirely down to the way the Scottish Government has dealt with the parliamentary committee.”
Supporters of Mr Salmond have claimed figures within government conspired against the former first minister by creating an anti-harassment policy that was out “to get” the ex-politician.
Civil servants, appearing in front of the Salmond inquiry, have denied such suggestions.
In his Press and Journal column, Mr Gunn was also critical of Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC’s appearance in front of the Salmond inquiry last week and his response to MSPs’ questions about the legal advice.
Mr Gunn accused Scotland’s most senior law officer of “breath-taking” obfuscation. Mr Gunn also claimed the Scottish Government’s botched handling of the claims against Mr Salmond would have cost the taxpayer “well in excess” of £1 million.
His remarks were made as MSPs on the inquiry prepared to meet in private after Deputy First Minister John Swinney blocked two civil servants from giving evidence in public.
Mr Swinney argued that the appearance of the civil servants posed an “unacceptable risk” of complainers being identified.
Tories considering legal action
Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said he had instructed his party to start preparations to launch legal action in an attempt to recover the advice.
“The committee is being obstructed and blocked from doing its job. The first minister’s promises to “co-operate fully” have been broken,” Mr Ross said.
“If the government continues to abuse its power to shut down scrutiny, the Scottish Conservatives will look to force their hand so we can find out how more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money was lost.”
MSPs’ demand for information
Earlier this month a majority of MSPs voted in favour of calls for the Scottish Government to publish the advice.
This week the Tories will try to force the issue again when the party brings a second Holyrood vote demanding the information is published immediately.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is taking unprecedented steps to provide the committee with the information it has requested in line with data protection, confidentiality and legal restrictions – and it is completely incorrect to suggest otherwise.
“The Deputy First Minister has clearly set out the detailed consideration that the Government is giving to the issue of whether legal advice can be revealed.
“Meanwhile, we are currently seeking agreement from the former first minister’s lawyers to the release of documents relating to the investigation of the complaints stage of their inquiry.
“We hope to be in a position to provide the relevant documentation that will enable Scottish Government witnesses to give their evidence on the investigation phase by December 1.”
The spokesman added: “We do not recognise the basis for the suggestion that costs have exceeded £1 million.”