The actions of the Scottish Government in releasing documents and legal advice to the Alex Salmond inquiry have been “truly outrageous”, a member of the committee has said during a confidence vote in the Deputy First Minister.
The Scottish Tories tabled a motion of no confidence in John Swinney in an effort to push him to publish the advice given to the Scottish Government during the judicial review brought by Mr Salmond, which the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints has previously requested and MSPs have twice voted for.
The party decided to push ahead with the vote despite “key” documents being released, claiming the disclosure was not enough and some information was still missing.
Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour deputy leader and a member of the Salmond inquiry, said during the Holyrood debate on Mr Swinney’s fate – which is already assured given the lack of support from the Scottish Greens for the motion – that a theme had emerged from the Scottish Government during the affair.
To applause from MSPs, she said: “There is a pattern of behaviour here and it is one of obstruction, secrecy and contempt for the institution of this Parliament.
“The motion of no confidence may be in John Swinney, but I am clear that it is in the behaviour of the ‘secretive national party’ that is truly outrageous.”
Tory Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said she is aware her party’s motion will not gain the backing of MSPs, but added: “We believe it is important and right to put on record that this is no way for the Scottish Government to treat this Parliament.
“While Mr Swinney’s outriders will, I’m sure, do a lap of honour in the press, the real losers are Scottish Government employees who have lumbered with a protection at work policy that everybody knows is damaged goods and that staff are too afraid to use.
“With a bit of transparency and candour, the committee could have helped work out what went wrong and why, but John Swinney preferred to keep evidence secret at every turn.”
But the Deputy First Minister accused Ms Davidson and her party of playing politics.
Taking the unusual step of defending himself during the debate, Mr Swinney said: “On any fair interpretation of what the Government has done, the Tories’ pursuit of this motion today is now entirely baseless.
“With an election only weeks away, the reality I suspect is that (the Tories) were always intent on pushing this motion to a vote, regardless of what action the Government had taken.”
Mr Swinney added the advice released to the public was embarrassing for the Scottish Government, and gave a “warts and all” account of the state of the case against it.
Scottish Liberal Democrat committee member Alex Cole-Hamilton said meetings between external counsel, Nicola Sturgeon and the Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans in November could have been “critical” and they could have decided to re-do the investigation.
Condemning the Government’s failure to provide records for those meetings, he said: “The Government was at a crossroads in those vital days and the advice received and the decisions taken at that meeting could have shaped the final outcome entirely.
“The optics, for a Government already mired in accusations of a cover-up over this, are terrible.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said the committee had turned into “shabby political theatre”, claiming its members were “obsessed with the idea of winning a political scalp” over the interests of past and future complainers.