Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has said he wants to find a “practical way” that legal advice on the Scottish Government’s court battle with Alex Salmond can be released to MSPs.
A special Holyrood committee is probing the Government’s botched handling of sexual harassment complaints against the former first minister, which saw him win more than £500,000 in court.
As part of that, MSPs on the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints have been pushing ministers to hand over the legal advice they received.
While MSPs have twice voted to instruct the Scottish Government to do this, ministers have still not released the papers.
But now Deputy First Minister John Swinney has told committee convener Linda Fabiani he is “keen to consider with you how we might establish a practical way that enables the committee to have access to the information it seeks”.
But he told both her and Holyrood Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh that “ministers are anxious to avoid creating a precedent that will impact negatively on the future ability of Scottish Government administrations to seek and receive legal advice in confidence consistent with the long-standing principle of legal professional privilege”.
The issue was discussed at the most recent meeting of the Scottish cabinet, Mr Swinney revealed.
He now wants talks to take place on Wednesday at which he said “the Government will propose mechanisms to establish an appropriate way forward on this matter”.
Scottish Labour deputy leader and committee member Jackie Baillie said the letter from Mr Swinney was “long overdue but represents a first step in releasing the legal advice to the committee”.
Ms Baillie added: “The Scottish Parliament has commanded the SNP government to hand over the legal advice and it’s clear that it has dawned on John Swinney that they can’t ignore the wishes of Parliament.”
She said it was “impossible for the committee to fulfil its function if this vital information is not handed over” and insisted: “It is time for the Government to co-operate with the committee to uphold the will of the Parliament.”
Ms Baillie continued: “The committee’s fight for information has been obstructed at every turn, the Government has maybe now realised that this information must be published.
“I’m glad the Government has understood that it can run, but it cannot hide.”
But Scottish Tory MSP and committee member Murdo Fraser claimed: “John Swinney continues to drag his feet rather than respecting the will of the Scottish Parliament and releasing the full legal advice his Government received.”
Mr Fraser said it was “clear” that the Deputy First Minister was “trying to bide for time and hoping this issue will go away”.
He demanded: “In the name of transparency, John Swinney must release this advice without any further delay. No ifs no buts.
“Otherwise the public who saw £500,000 of their money wasted on this case will only think he is treating them like fools.”