‘No argument’ that the Scottish Government ignored legal advice, Ruth Davidson claims
There is “no argument” about whether the Scottish Government ignored legal advice, Ruth Davidson has claimed at First Minister’s Questions (FMQs).
The Scottish Conservative’s Holyrood leader said the real argument was whether the government “did so for three weeks or more than three months”.
Challenging First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the legal advice given in the Alex Salmond judicial review, Davidson said it was “not up for question” whether the government had ignored legal advice and cost taxpayers money, but “what’s being argued is how long and how much was wasted”.
Former first minister Salmond took the Scottish Government to court over whether its handling of harassment complaints was lawful.
The Scottish Government ultimately conceded the case in January 2019 and was forced to pay over half a million pounds in legal costs, but questions have been asked about whether money could have been saved had it conceded earlier.
Davidson quoted from legal advice released this week by the Scottish Government that advised nine weeks before the government conceded that the case had been more likely to fail than succeed and that 19 days before the government conceded lawyers has said there was no stateable case.
“Why did the government try to defend the indefensible for so long?” Davidson asked, suggesting Sturgeon had “dug her heels in”.
Regarding the ignoring of legal advice, the First Minister said it was “simply not true”.
“Due process was followed that led to a decision on the part of the government to concede the case,” she said, accusing the Conservatives of playing “political games”.
Davidson also questioned why the Scottish Government had withheld vital documents relating to the handling of harassment complaints about Alex Salmond from its own lawyers and asked whether the withheld documents were the ones that eventually made the case “unstateable”, meaning it could not be defended.
“The legal advice is there for everyone to see, and people with an open mind – which doesn’t include Ruth Davidson – can look at that,” Sturgeon replied.
Taking his place at FMQs for the first time, new Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the exchanges they had just heard “represent the worst of our politics” and also questioned the Scottish Government’s behaviour.
He said the founding principles of the parliament had been undermined by the Scottish Government failing the women in the harassment inquiry, by the government’s refusal to hand over all documentation to the committee looking its handling of the complaints and by ignoring two votes of the parliament calling for all the legal advice to be published.
“Why did it take the threat of a no confidence vote in the Deputy First Minster for your government to act?” he asked.
Sarwar said the “wholly unacceptable and disgraceful situation” with the legal advice could not be repeated with the forthcoming report by James Hamilton QC on whether the First Minister broke the ministerial code.
He asked for a “cast iron guarantee” that the government would release the report on the day it was handed over by Hamilton and Sturgeon agreed to do that.