First Minister Alex Salmond has today had to apologise for misleading parliament during First Minister’s Questions.
In response to a question from Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser about the date of the independence referendum, Salmond wrongly claimed that referendum expert Dr Matt Qvortrup had endorsed the SNP government’s plans for a two-question referendum.
“I’ve been handed a statement from Matt Qvortrup, a professor and the world’s foremost expert on constitutional referendum – a letter that he’s sending to the Times newspaper,” Salmond said earlier today.
“It closes by saying, ‘while it is a matter for the Scottish people and parliament to determine the form of their own referendum and while asking about a single question would be much more common, such a two-question proposition would be fair, reasonable and clear’.”
However, in a letter sent to the First Minister this afternoon, Fraser said he had since been informed that the words attributed to Dr Qvortrup had in fact been drafted by Salmond’s official spokesman.
In a statement to parliament Salmond said:
“I believe that the words I used in response to Murdo Fraser were going to be included in a letter to the Times newspaper from Professor Matt Qvortrup.
“I now know that was not the case and therefore I apologise to the chamber for my mistake. It was never my intention to mislead parliament.”
However, Salmond said the error was his and his alone and would not allow the public blame to be cast upon his staff. He added that he has subsequently spoken with Dr Qvortrup who has said he believes a two-question referendum is possible, providing certain conditions were met, and has said he is willing to act as an advisor to the Scottish Parliament on this issue.
Fraser said it was a “humiliating” climbdown for the First Minister.
“It speaks volumes about this government that when they come to their flagship policy of an independence referendum, they mislead, manipulate and manufacture evidence in support of their stance, and browbeat and bully those who take a contrary view,” he added.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie accused Salmond of attempting to “nobble an academic, doctor the evidence and pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Scotland.”
While Labour’s leader in the Scottish Parliament Iain Gray said Salmond’s “grovelling” apology prompts more questions than it answers.
“It is still unclear if Alex Salmond ordered his official spokesman to nobble Professor Qvortrup?
“If not, did the official spokesman do it of his own volition?
“Did the official spokesman tell the First Minister he had made up the letter without Professor Qvortrup’s knowledge?
“If not, why not? Or was it the case his official spokesman advised the First Minister to mislead Parliament?
“Who is covering up for whom?”
Gray added: “It is clear the SNP will do anything or say anything and make anything up to stop the Scottish people having their say on a fair question in a referendum.”