Alex Salmond inquiry: Nicola Sturgeon urged to resign as vote of no confidence in John Swinney still 'on the table'
Douglas Ross has called for Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation as he confirmed the Scottish Conservatives will still push for a vote of no confidence in the Depute First Minister in parliament this week.
Mr Ross, said that despite a release of Scottish Goverment legal advice to the Holyrood committee investigating how sexual harassment complaints against Alex Salmond were handled there were “still gaps” and that people would not just “accept it and move on”.
He also said that misleading parliament and breaches of the ministerial code – of which Nicola Sturgeon has been accused – were resignation matters, and it was “undeniable” the Scottish Government had wasted £100,000 pursuing its defence of Alex Salmond’s judicial review after it was clear it would fail.
However the SNP said Mr Ross was using the committee inquiry as a “political game” and that “every question had been answered”.
The Scottish Conservatives faced criticism last week after calling for a vote of no confidence in Nicola Sturgeon before she had given evidence to the committee, but Mr Ross confirmed his party still planned to lodge motions of no confidence in both the First Minister and her depute John Swinney.
The party claims that Mr Swinney’s position is “untenable” because “he ignored the will of the Scottish Parliament, has not released all the legal advice requested, blatantly withheld evidence from the committee until after Nicola Sturgeon appeared, and has made inaccurate statements about the release of the advice.”
Subject to the decision of the Scottish Parliament’s business bureau, the vote could be held on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “John Swinney ignored two votes of the Scottish Parliament and committee requests for months until his job was on the line.
“He then claimed to have released all the key legal advice before Nicola Sturgeon’s evidence session, which is blatantly untrue. Anyone can now see that he manipulated the flow of information to a parliament inquiry to protect the First Minister from having to respond to devastating evidence that she personally “discounted” and disputed the advice of Queen’s Counsel."
Mr Ross also alleged that a press statement by Mr Swinney last Friday was “inaccurate and misleading” as the government had still failed to release “key legal advice from multiple consultations with lawyers, including a meeting attended by Nicola Sturgeon, her chief of staff Liz Lloyd and permanent secretary Leslie Evans on 13 November 2018.”
He added: “Mr Swinney claimed that the documents showed the government did not ignore advice from counsel, which was contradicted by the very documents he published. On 17 December 2018, Roddy Dunlop QC wrote that his advice had been “discounted.”
“John Swinney’s position has become untenable. He has disrespected the Scottish Parliament repeatedly, blatantly withheld evidence from a parliamentary inquiry, and tried to mislead the public.
“He has had more than enough chances to be transparent but his actions are getting more murkier and inexcusable as the weeks go on.
“We are proceeding with the vote of no confidence. I urge all opposition parties to support it to uphold the reputation of the Scottish Parliament and to ensure that in future, votes of the Parliament are respected by the Scottish Government.”
The Scottish Conservatives have also claimed it is “undeniable” that at least £100,000 had been wasted by the Scottish Government by pursuing the judicial review case long after legal counsel said it would fail.
"The government’s case would have been doomed instantly if the SNP didn’t hide documents from their own “horrified” lawyers – the very documents that would have collapsed case if they had given them up earlier,” said Mr Ross.
“But even though they were not given all the facts, Queen’s Counsel still advised them to quit a full month before Nicola Sturgeon’s government conceded. They pleaded with the First Minister personally not to “plough on regardless” but still SNP ministers carried on, running up an ever-increasing bill of several hundred thousand pounds in the process.”
He added: “The First Minister arrogantly thought she was a better lawyer than Queen’s Counsel and “discounted” their advice. It was a disastrous and costly mistake.
“Nicola Sturgeon charged on, knowing the case was doomed, and cost taxpayers a fortune. That is a clear breach of the Ministerial Code and grounds for a sacking in any other place of work. The First Minister should take responsibility and resign.”
A spokesperson for the SNP said: “Just when you thought it wasn’t possible for the Scottish Tories to stoop any lower, Douglas Ross still manages. The Tories are showing their true colours – this is nothing but a political game to them and instead of letting due process take place, they’d rather be hysterical and opportunistic.
“There have been thousands of documents handed over to the committee including legal documents. The FM spent an entire day at committee answering detailed questions and many more hours at FMQs. Every question has been answered.
“When are Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, Matt Hancock and others going to face even an iota of this kind of scrutiny over misleading Westminster and MPs from the parliament that Douglas Ross actually sits in? This is really desperate stuff from the Scottish Tories who believe there should be different rules for their political masters in London.”
Earlier on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show Mr Ross refused to be say whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson should also resign after it was ruled by a court he had misled the Commons over the awarding of Covid contracts.
“I’m not choosing to ignore that [the allegation against Mr Johnson] but whenever the SNP are in trouble they alert people to Westminster – why don’t they focus on their own record? They have misled parliament, the people of Scotland and they have broken the ministerial code and wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds.”
He added: “There’s a due process for the UK parliament to look at it. But we’re not comparing like with like. The First Minister has lied and misled parliament, we know from her evidence sessions she cannot recall or forgot key elements the committee were looking at.
"It's simply not good enough to come to parliament without these answers and assume people will just accept it and move on. We won’t. The evidence is compelling and corroborated by multiple witnesses, and now with the legal advice we’ve seen it’s clear the Scottish Government should have given up on this case long before they did.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As the Deputy First Minister has made very clear, given the exceptional circumstances in which the integrity of the government, parliament and other key institutions were being challenged, we have taken unprecedented steps to provide the committee with the information it has requested in line with data protection, confidentiality and legal restrictions – and we have released a huge amount of documentation including legal advice documents.
“On Tuesday, the Government, exceptionally, published legal advice at key stages in the judicial review process, ahead of the First Minister’s eight-hour evidence session, and, following the completion of statutory and data protection checks, further legal documents were also published on Thursday and Friday. We have now disclosed all of the formal written advice notes received from external Counsel during the judicial review, as well as a number of other relevant previously legally privileged documents.
“As the Deputy First Minister has set out, these documents, taken in their entirety, utterly disprove the conspiracy theory that the Scottish Government delayed the concession of the judicial review or ignored advice from counsel. The information in the documents is consistent with information already shared with the committee in evidence.”