The Scottish government’s brutal legal advice

The Scottish government’s brutal legal advice
Nicola Sturgeon (photo: Getty)
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Today – after the deputy First Minister John Swinney was threatened with a no-confidence vote in the Scottish Parliament – the SNP finally agreed to release its legal advice from Alex Salmond’s challenge against the government.

Mr S can see why Nicola Sturgeon wanted to keep the advice hidden...

The documents concern Salmond’s successful legal challenge against the Scottish government, after it botched an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct made against him (Salmond was later acquitted of these charges in a criminal court). In January 2019 he won his case and the Scottish government was forced to pay out half a million in costs.

Salmond now alleges that Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code by refusing to settle the case earlier,  if the government’s lawyers warned the First Minister that it was not wise to continue.

Today’s documents certainly show that the Scottish government’s lawyers were not happy with the way the case was handled, which comes across as a disaster from start to finish.

Mr S has the most brutal bits of the advice:

The Scottish government’s lawyers wrote to the government on 19 December to express their ‘regret and dismay’ about the case. Even worse, the lawyers felt they had suffered ‘extreme professional embarrassment’ because of assurances they had made to the court which turned out to be false.

On 31 October, the lawyers suggest that proceeding with the case may ‘make little sense’ and would be ‘defending the indefensible’. The case continued until January...

The lawyers were concerned by an email which suggested the investigating officer had met with the complainer before the investigation actually began. This eventually led to Salmond winning his legal challenge, as it suggested the process had not been carried out correctly. It’s fair to say the lawyers were livid that it took until the end of the year before they found out about the emails. They told the government that it was ‘unexplained’ and ‘frankly inexplicable’. In other words, the Scottish government’s handling of the legal challenge was a complete shambles.

Remarkably, things could have gotten even worse. The Scottish government’s lawyers point out that ‘mercifully’ the investigating officer in the Salmond investigation had not yet lodged their affidavits. And they suggested that the failure to mention a prior meeting with the complainer was ‘frankly alarming’. Mr S imagines the lawyers were worried about a perjury charge…

The lawyers then described the Scottish government’s position as ‘close to untenable.’ Ouch.

Mr S was disappointed to see though that the SNP government are not yet being fully transparent. Considering how awful the rest of the advice is, one wonders how bad the redacted parts of the documents are…

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to

Topics in this articleScotlandPolitics