Yesterday the Scottish Government announced that specific legal advice on EU membership and an independent Scotland did not exist and that they are now going to seek such advice. In March this year when asked the question by journalist Andrew Neil, the First Minister is on record as saying “yes”, the advice existed. If we are now told the legal advice did not exist, then when the First Minister was asked the question and responded positively “We have, yes” either he made a mistake and should apologise for misleading the Scottish public, or he intentionally lied to mislead the Scottish people in order to pursue his own political agenda and should therefore do the honourable thing and resign as First Minister. His statement yesterday in the Scottish Parliament illustrated a clear ambivalence by him over his actions. No humbleness, no apology, just the arrogance of five years of power with a complete disregard for the people he claims to serve.
In May last year I wrote to the Scottish Government after listening to SNP representatives asserting that Scotland, if it became an independent country, would automatically gain full membership of the EU. I called on the Scottish Government to state whether any legal advice existed on this question and if so to publish it. Their response stated that it was not in the public’s interest to publish such advice and after appealing I was left with no option but to take my case to the Scottish Information Commissioner. On the 6th July, 2012 she made her ruling that on the point of whether the legal advice existed or not the Scottish Government had a duty to tell me by the 21st August, 2012.
Instead of informing me with a yes or no answer, they decided to take the Information Commissioner to Court. On the 20th September I attended the Court of Session to be informed that the hearing would take place between the Scottish Government and the Information Commissioner on the 18th/19th December. Yesterday in Strasbourg I received a call from the Scottish Government that a statement would be made and that I would be interested in what it contained. At 14:20 UK time, 15:20 French time, the Deputy First Minister ‘s statement was released and on p9 the answer to my question which I had spent 17 months pursuing was finally answered. The SNP’s legal advice was non-existent – just a blank sheet of paper.
Are the SNP having the last laugh on this one? I hope not. I am glad that I did not give up and pursued the question when colleagues told me it was a waste of my time, because it confirmed what I thought all along: that the SNP were making it up. They lied when they asserted about automatic membership of the EU and what makes it far worse and more serious so did the First Minister. What makes me most angry is the waste of valuable resources at a time when services are being cut to the most vulnerable in our society under the SNP’s watch. To defend a blank piece of paper they paid an estimated £8,000 in legal fees. To also waste the valuable time of the Information Commissioner when they knew they had no legal advice beggars belief. It shows a disdain for the very person who upholds our freedom to know and holds public bodies to account.
Will the SNP and Alex Salmond be trusted after this shambolic series of events? With this display of incompetence, I hope not.