Douglas Ross challenges other opposition leaders to back no confidence votes in Sturgeon and Swinney

Simon Johnson
·5-min read
Douglas Ross has challenged the other opposition party leaders to back no confidence votes in Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney - Stuart Nicol
Douglas Ross has challenged the other opposition party leaders to back no confidence votes in Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney - Stuart Nicol

The Scottish Tory leader has challenged Holyrood's other opposition parties to show the courage to "stand up" to the SNP by backing no confidence motions in Nicola Sturgeon and her deputy over the Alex Salmond scandal.

Douglas Ross argued the Scottish Parliament's "stagnant and feeble" procedures means the votes are the only way the opposition can "confront" Ms Sturgeon and John Swinney and send a message that their actions will not be tolerated.

In a direct message to Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Greens, Mr Ross said: "When they abuse their power, cover up the truth, and trample on Parliament – don’t let them away with it. Join with us and stand up to them."

He argued the "Sturgeon-Salmond scandal" had demonstrated major changes were required to the Scottish Parliament and government, including stripping Ms Sturgeon of her position as the final arbiter of whether the ministerial code has been broken.

In a keynote speech hosted by the Onward think tank, he said Holyrood's standards committee should take this role and all the committees should have elected chairmen instead of them being chosen by party chiefs.

Among the other reforms he proposed was giving voters the power to recall MSPs. Derek Mackay, the disgraced former Finance Secretary, has not been seen at Holyrood for more than a year since he was caught sending inappropriate text messages to a schoolboy.

However, Mr Ross pointed out that Mr Mackay has remained the Renfrewshire North and West MSP, drawing a salary and charging the public purse for his expenses.

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The Scottish Tory leader also used the speech to warn voters that an SNP majority after May's Holyrood election would mean giving Ms Sturgeon "free reign" to pursue her "obsession with separation" before recovering from the pandemic.

Denying her that majority would mean the parliament could be "a bulwark against the SNP and their plans for a second divisive referendum", he argued.

Mr Ross reiterated he was willing to enter a "grand coalition" with Labour if that would oust the SNP from power and protect the Union. However, Anas Sarwar, the new Scottish Labour leader, rejected his overtures.

The Tories have said they plan to move a motion of no confidence this week in Mr Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, after alleging he "blatantly" withheld the publication of damning legal advice until two days after Ms Sturgeon appeared at the Alex Salmond inquiry.

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On the eve of Ms Sturgeon's appearance before the inquiry last Wednesday, Mr Swinney published what he described as "the key legal advice" and claimed "all of this material is now in the public domain."

The disclosure was made after it became clear there was a Holyrood majority for a Tory no confidence motion that would have forced his resignation. He had previously ignored two parliamentary votes for the documents to be released.

But Mr Swinney published a further tranche of documents on Friday afternoon that showed the Scottish Government lawyers fighting Mr Salmond's judicial review had challenged Ms Sturgeon whether she wanted to "plough on" regardless of their warnings he would win.

A note written on Dec 17, 2018 showed Roddy Dunlop QC and Christine O'Neill said they were "perilously close" to being unable to mount a defence and were "firmly of the view" Mr Salmond would succeed on at least one of his challenges.

Despite this, two days later the Scottish Government started an expensive 'Commission and Diligence' process in the court fight. It was reported at the weekend that ministers spent a further £135,000 of taxpayers' money before the case was conceded in early January.

John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon - PA
John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon - PA

The Tories have also lodged a motion of no confidence in Ms Sturgeon. Both that and the one in Mr Swinney would require the backing of all the opposition parties to pass.

Mr Ross said "the other parties need to show that they have the stomach stand up to this SNP government like we do" and "to hold the First Minister to the same standards that she has held others to."

He noted that former First Minister Henry McLeish, the late former Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie and the former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander all bowed to SNP demands for them to resign over far less serious allegations.

"It is the job of Scotland’s opposition to call that out – not to run and hide from the SNP. When they abuse their power, cover up the truth, and trample on Parliament – don’t let them away with it. Join with us and stand up to them," he said.

"Let’s confront them together. Let’s send a message that we are Scotland’s opposition and what they have done, what they are doing, to the Scottish Parliament will not be tolerated."

But Keith Brown, the SNP's depute leader, said: "The Tories are obsessed with playing political games, and that was exposed for all to see last week when they tabled a motion against the First Minister before she had even appeared at the committee."