Scotland’s deputy first minster John Swinney has agreed to release legal advice Nicola Sturgeon’s government received during a court battle with Alex Salmond after facing threats of a no-confidence motion.
The advice relates to Mr Salmond’s successful legal challenge of the Scottish government’s harassment complaints procedure, which led to the former SNP leader being awarded more than £500,000.
Mr Swinney admitted lawyers had raised “reservations” about the Scottish government’s case, but claimed the “key” advice to be released on Tuesday would counter the “false claims being made by some”.
Mr Salmond – who claims there was a “concerted” plot by senior SNP figures to bring him down – has alleged that the Scottish government was told by its own lawyers its case would fail several months before it was conceded in January 2019.
“In normal circumstances, government legal advice is not released,” said Mr Swinney. “But, we have to acknowledge that the issues at stake now are not normal. Serious allegations have been made. This material allows people to confirm that these allegations are false.”
The Scottish Conservatives had submitted a motion of no confidence in Mr Swinney at Holyrood after he refused to comply with two parliamentary votes calling for the publication of legal advice.
Tory whip Miles Brigg MSP said he will not withdraw the motion until MSPs are given assurances that SNP ministers will deliver everything the committee has requested.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Mr Swinney had “only backed down and U-turned to save his own skin”, adding: “It’s a pathetic reveal of what motivates the SNP … it’s only about self-preservation.”
Independent MSP Andy Whiteman, a member of the Salmond inquiry committee, said the government should release all the legal advice – not just the bits Mr Swinney considers “key”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “we have been pressing for months for the release of all the legal advice”, adding that it was crucial in helping the committee it would have been “better to concede the case much earlier”.
Mr Salmond has claimed the Scottish government knew its case was doomed to fail in October 2018, when evidence of prior contact between investigating officer Judith Mackinnon and two of the women who made complainants against him allegedly first became clear.
The government ultimately conceded the case to Mr Salmond in January 2019, admitting it investigations had been “tainted by apparent bias”.
Mr Swinney has admitted there had been legal concerns about the unlawful investigation of Mr Salmond – but claimed there were “good public policy grounds” to not concede the case until just before it came to court.
In a letter ahead of the release of the legal advice, Mr Swinney acknowledged lawyers had raised “reservations” about the issue of prior contact between Ms Mackinnon and complainers.
The row comes as Scotland’s Lord Advocate is due to appear before the Holyrood inquiry on Tuesday. James Wolffe QC will be grilled by MSPs about the Crown Office’s controversial intervention to request the redaction of Mr Salmond’s written evidence.
Mr Salmond last week said that Mr Wolffe – who is both the head of the Crown Office and a member of the Scottish government – should “consider his position” over the saga.
Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said she would also ask Mr Wolffe about Mr Salmond’s allegation that the Scottish government “ignored” a police warrant ordering it to hand over documents ahead of Mr Salmond’s criminal trial.