Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Salmond denies lying over EU advice

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has defended Alex Salmond's account of whether he received legal advice on Scotland's position in the European Union.

In an interview broadcast on Tuesday's Newsnight Scotland she said any "fair-minded person" would agree with Mr Salmond's explanation.

Alex Salmond has denied that he lied on the issue.

Opposition MSPs had quoted an interview with BBC presenter Andrew Neil.

Mr Salmond made a statement at Holyrood clarifying his position on Tuesday afternoon.

He insisted the answers he gave Mr Neil had been selectively quoted by opposition MSPs.

Mr Neil asked Mr Salmond in March if he "sought advice from your own law officers" on the matter of Scotland's future in Europe.

Mr Salmond replied that "we have, yes, in terms of the debate" and said the advice can be read "in the documents that we have put forward which argue the position that we would be a successor state".

He said: "You know I can't give you the legal advice or reveal the legal advice of law officers. You know that Andrew.

"But what you can say is that everything that we publish is consistent with the legal advice that we receive."

Earlier, during a statement on the independence consultation process, Nicola Sturgeon said the SNP had only just begun seeking specific legal advice.

In the Newsnight Scotland interview, Ms Sturgeon said people needed to look at the whole of the exchange between the first minister and Andrew Neil.

She said: "Any fair-minded person who reads the entire transcript of that interview would see that what he was doing was talking about the general debate.

"He cited a number of legal opinions. He was also talking about general government documents all of which are underpinned law officers' advice."

Opposition figures had attacked the first minister's credibility.

Scottish Labour's Paul Martin said: "It appears First Minister is a liar. When asked about whether he had sought legal advice on Scotland joining the EU he said he had.

"He even went to court to prevent that advice from being published and he told the Scottish Parliament that he couldn't reveal it because the rules wouldn't let him.

"Now Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that Alex Salmond never had any advice to keep secret in the first place, that means the Deputy First Minister has revealed the First Minister to be a liar."

The SNP revealed it was dropping a court battle to stop publication of whether they had previously sought advice from law officers.

Ms Sturgeon said: "The Scottish government has previously cited opinions from a number of eminent legal authorities, past and present, in support of its view that an independent Scotland will continue in membership of the European Union - but has not sought specific legal advice.

"However, as the Edinburgh Agreement provides the exact context of the process of obtaining independence, we now have the basis on which specific legal advice can be sought."

Ms Sturgeon said the government's position in the independence White Paper would be based on the advice they receive.

"I should also make clear that, in confirming that the government has now asked for law officers' advice, I have both sought and received the prior agreement of the Lord Advocate."

Ruth Davidson, Scottish Conservative leader, said: "NATO is not the only international body that is tying the SNP in knots.

"We find out today that despite desperate claims of knowing the answer, despite thousands of taxpayers money spent on court action to keep information from the Scottish people, the SNP has never taken advice on a separate Scotland's place in the European Union."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP said: ‪"For months the First Minister has asserted that an independent Scotland would be a continuing member of the European Union rather than a new member.

"But the Deputy First Minister has now embarrassingly admitted she had no advice. Everything that the SNP has asserted has been blown apart by fact today.

"The SNP Government began legal proceedings over a document that didn't even exist, the public will rightly be infuriated that thousands of pounds of their money was spent funding an SNP orchestrated farce."

Single question

Before the row broke out over the legal advice Nicola Sturgeon had made a statement to MSPs on the independence consultation responses.

She revealed a majority of respondents favoured a one question referendum.

An agreement was signed last week to deliver a legally binding, single-question referendum in 2014.

The Scottish government received more than 26,000 responses to the consultation, which were independently verified.

Issues raised included the proposed timetable, whether there should be weekend voting, who should oversee the running of the referendum and what the spending limits should be.

The consultation ran from 5 January to 11 May, leading to complaints that the deal signed in Edinburgh last week by Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond pre-empted the results.

The Scottish government said the results of its consultation showed:

  • 64% of respondents who commented on the proposed referendum question broadly agreed with the wording.
  • 62% broadly agreed with the proposed timetable and voting arrangements.
  • 32% were broadly in favour of including a second question on the ballot paper and 62% were not. The remainder had unclear views.
  • 46% broadly agreed with holding the referendum on a Saturday and 32% did not.
  • 56% broadly agreed with extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds and 41% did not.
  • About 3 in 5 respondents supported either the suggested spending limits or the principle of having spending limits, with respondents frequently suggesting spending should be equitable and that there must be high levels of transparency and accountability.

The UK government has agreed to grant limited powers to Holyrood to hold a legally binding referendum through a Section 30 order, which was laid at the Scottish Parliament last week.

The deal signed by Mr Cameron and Mr Salmond will also see Holyrood legislate for the date of the referendum, whether to reduce the voting age to 16, the wording of the question, campaign finance rules and the conduct of the referendum.

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