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Salmond inquiry: Scottish Government’s second humiliating defeat

Former First Minister Alex Salmond.

Alex Salmond has called on the Scottish Government to finance his legal costs after spending “thousands” of pounds on the Holyrood inquiry into the handling of harassment claims against him.

Mr Salmond made the plea as Nicola Sturgeon’s administration suffered a second humiliating defeat at Holyrood over its failure to hand over legal documents to the MSPs’ investigation.

Letters from Mr Salmond’s lawyer, David McKie, of Levy McRae, argue the former first minister is at a disadvantage compared to the government and the parliament because, unlike them, he does not have access to publicly funded legal support.

His call was made in a letter to Deputy First Minister John Swinney and a similar point was made in a message to the Holyrood committee.

Scottish Government second defeat
John Swinney MSP.

Mr McKie told members of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints: “It cannot be fair that our client has been left to fund this personally when both the inquiry and the Scottish Government have legal support provided by the public purse”.

The lawyer said Mr Salmond had spent hundreds of hours and spent “thousands” during the inquiry. The committee had to make a choice on whether to fund Mr Salmond “supporting” its work.

And in an email to the Scottish Government, Mr McKie appealed for financial help, arguing: “He (Mr Salmond) does not, like you, have the benefit of a publicly funded legal department. He does not have access to the advice of counsel paid for by the taxpayer. The inequality of arms is stark.”

MSPs support Tory motion

The letters were published by the committee just before MSPs debated a Conservative motion calling on the Scottish Government to release legal documents to the inquiry “without any further delay”.

MSPs on the Salmond inquiry have been calling on the Scottish Government to release the legal advice it received before the former first minister took a successful judicial review against the administration he used to lead.

Mr Salmond’s victory in the civil courts resulted in more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ cash being spent on the former SNP leader’s legal costs.

Scottish Government second defeat

A majority of MSPs voted by 65 to 55 – with four abstentions – in favour of the Tory motion, ensuring a second highly embarrassing defeat for the government on the issue.

The vote, which saw Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens unite against the SNP, means the Scottish Parliament has twice expressed its will for the documentation to be released to the inquiry.

At the beginning of this month a majority of MSPs voted by 63 to 54 in favour of handling over the legal advice. After the first vote, Mr Swinney said the government would consider the parliament’s view. But the failure of Ms Sturgeon’s administration to produce the material quickly enough led to the Conservatives holding a second vote.

‘His credibility has been shattered’

After the Scottish Government’s second defeat, Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “Once again MSPs have united behind a Scottish Conservative motion to condemn the government’s utter lack of respect for Parliament.

“This debate dealt a crushing blow to John Swinney’s reputation. His credibility has been shattered by defending the indefensible.

“The SNP’s chief fixer rolled out one mortifying excuse after another to try to explain away the SNP’s shameful drive to avoid scrutiny at all costs.

Scottish Government second defeat
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser.

“It’s clearer than ever that the SNP have something damning to hide. They won’t release these key legal documents that would finally shed light on how complainers were failed and why more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money was lost.”

Mr Fraser added: “The Parliament made clear today that there is nowhere to run or hide for the SNP. The Scottish Conservatives and every opposition party will continue to demand the release of these vital documents.”

‘Dissembling, obstruction and secrecy’

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said the pace of the Deputy First Minister “makes a snail look like a sprinter”.

Ms Baillie said: “The Scottish Government like to think of themselves as world leaders and indeed they are – world leaders at dissembling, obstruction and secrecy.”

While Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton suggested Mr Swinney should face a vote of no-confidence unless the information was forthcoming “in short order”.

During the debate, Mr Swinney argued there was a principle of legal privilege, which  maintained confidentiality over legal advice to governments.

He said “no final decision has been made by the government” about publishing the advice, but claimed there could be a “very real potential for negative consequences”.

He suggested that it could create a precedent that could “potentially undermine the ability of the government to receive legal advice”.

‘Claim documents do not appear relevant’

Dissatisfaction with the information provided to the inquiry by the Scottish Government had also been expressed by Mr Salmond’s lawyer.

In an email to Holyrood clerks, Mr McKie said he was going through 2,000 pages of documents provided by the Scottish Government.

But he said many did “not appear relevant to the remit of the inquiry”, adding: “It would appear that they are being produced to give the impression of full cooperation and transparency.”

Mr McKie also said Mr Salmond had identified many Scottish Government documents which he considered should be released but which had not been received by the committee.

The lawyer said some of the documents were only now being seen for the first time by Mr Salmond despite court orders in the judicial review and Mr Salmond’s criminal trial.

Mr McKie said “many of these documents would have made a material and helpful contribution to both of our client’s cases” and Mr Salmond was considering all legal options in light of civil and criminal cases he went through.

Mr Salmond successfully took the Scottish Government to a judicial review, which found the administration’s internal inquiry into the claims against him was tainted with apparent bias.

In a separate criminal case, Mr Salmond was cleared of all sex offence charges earlier this year.