Scottish independence: Labour call on inquiry into EU advice row

From Democracy Live: Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont calls for a judicial inquiry

The leader of the Scottish Labour Party has called for a judicial inquiry into First Minister Alex Salmond's handling of the EU legal advice row.

In a debate at Holyrood, Johann Lamont said the Scottish government had lost the trust of the electorate.

The row centred on whether the Scottish government had or had not sought legal advice on the EU status of an independent Scotland.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Labour's motion was "desperate".

She told Ms Lamont that she had failed to establish a proper argument on the issue at First Minister's Questions last week and she was failing again in her Holyrood debate.

Ms Sturgeon said that Labour's motion did not address "our place in the world" as an independent nation.

She added: "It fails to address the very real risk to Scotland a no vote would present, it fails to even mention the virtual and depressing certainty that Trident and its successor will be based on the Clyde for another 50 years if Scotland does not become independent."

The Scottish government spent about £12,000 on a court battle to prevent having to reveal whether it had or had not commissioned advice on Scotland's future EU membership.

Timeline - EU advice row

  • May 2011 - Labour MEP Catherine Stihler asks if the Scottish government has legal advice on an independent Scotland in Europe
  • August 2011 - The government refuses to reveal if it has advice
  • October 2011 - Ms Stihler writes to Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew saying she is not happy with that refusal
  • July 2012 - Ms Agnew says ministers should reveal if they have advice. The government continues to say it cannot because it would breach the ministerial code to do so
  • September 2012 - A court date in December is set to settle the matter
  • October 23, 2012 - Nicola Sturgeon tells MSPs that ministers did not have legal advice on the EU but it was now commissioning advice from the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland. She adds that the court case on the matter is dropped
  • October 25, 2012 - Independent investigators will look into whether the first minister breached the ministerial code in relation to the legal row
  • October 30, 2012 - Labour leader Johann Lamont calls for a judicial inquiry into Mr Salmond's conduct on the matter

Find out more detail

Ministers abandoned the case last week when Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that it did not have advice but was now asking the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, to give that advice.

Both Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon said that ahead of the Edinburgh Agreement, paving the way for the 2014 independence referendum, they could not discuss legal advice because they would be in breach of the ministerial code.

Labour had claimed Mr Salmond was a "bare faced liar", saying he told the BBC in March that he did have legal advice.

The first minister insisted he never said that he had legal advice and the transcript of the interview proves this.

The SNP had long argued the court case was about defending the code of conduct for ministers which prevents disclosure of legal advice, including whether that advice even exists.

Last week Mr Salmond referred himself to independent investigators to look into whether he had breached the ministerial code.

Ms Lamont has now deepened the row by demanding a wider investigation into the first minister's conduct.

'Bluff and bluster'

She told the chamber: "This isn't about his future, it is about the future of Scotland, and Scotland deserves better.

"That is why today I am calling for a judicial inquiry into the first minister's handling of this affair from the beginning.

Start Quote

Up with this she will not put. The Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick, has told MSPs that they should mind their language in future, particularly as the temperature rises with regard to the debate over independence”

End Quote

"An inquiry into the basis on which the first minister did ever assert Scotland would automatically be a member of the EU.

"What made him say that this separate Scotland would not have to adopt the euro? An inquiry into why he said he'd sought advice from law officers when he had not.

"No amount of bluff and bluster will stop us seeking the truth."

The Scottish Conservatives said the Lord Advocate had "rejected" the invitation of Tory leader Ruth Davidson to appear before MSPs to explain what his role had been.

In a letter, Mr Mulholland said: "I do not regard it as the role of law officers to become involved in the political fray nor do I consider that it is in any way appropriate to place and debate legal advice in public."

During the debate, Ms Davidson said the "people of Scotland needed the truth".

She added: "Scotland deserves to have a government they can trust and I'm not sure that Alex Salmond's referral on the ministerial code will restore any of the trust that's just been lost."

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said that the first minister and the deputy first minister could not both be right.

He added: "Their complicated explanations have assured and reassured no-one, the public know they have been caught out and they need to come clean."

Heavily amended motion

Before the debate began, the presiding officer Tricia Marwick warned members about conducting themselves correctly and to be careful about the kind of language they used.

MSPs voted 62 to 53 - with one abstention - in favour of a Labour motion which was heavily amended by the Scottish government.

The motion welcomed the Edinburgh agreement, believing "that an independent Scotland continuing in the European Union would be in the best interests of Scotland, the rest of the UK and the EU as a whole".

It noted that "a range of international experts have made the case that an independent Scotland would continue in the EU" and that the Scottish government had now commissioned specific legal advice on Scotland's position in the EU from the law officers.

The amended motion also welcomed the independent investigation on whether the Scottish ministerial code had been breached and called on all parties in the parliament to accept its findings.

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