Today, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP made the embarrassing confession that there was no legal advice on the position of an independent Scotland in the European Union. The Ministers were ordered by Rosemary Agnew, the Scottish Information Commissioner, to reveal whether they held such advice and until today the Ministers refused to comply with that order. They had lodged an appeal in the Court of Session which was due to be heard on 18 and 19 December 2012.
Taking a case to the Court of Session is not cheap; it’s really rather expensive. The Ministers have wasted Government money and indeed money from the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner by pursuing an appeal that aimed to keep secret that they had, until now, been lying to the Scottish people. The very clear implication of the statements made to Parliament prior to today was that the Government had received advice and it was from that advice they were making their assertions.
The Scottish Ministers have said that the white paper will be informed by the advice they have received, but given that we know they’ve given an impression they had advice when they did not, can we really trust what this Government is saying on this vitally important issue? Is the position of the Scottish Government simply going to be on what Alex Salmond has decided is the case rather than on any concrete evidence? Of course, we’re unlikely to see any legal advice the Government ever actually receives because of Legal Professional Privilege so we have to go on trust and today the SNP will have, undoubtedly, lost some of the trust that the Scottish people had in them.
I still await a decision from the Commissioner on my request to the Ministers on whether they received advice over the competence of the Scottish Parliament. A somewhat moot point now that a Section 30 order is to be made. However, it does remain an important one in light of recent events.