Scottish Tories to lodge no confidence motion in John Swinney

Party says action will be taken unless Swinney agrees to release government's legal advice over Alex Salmond's judicial review.

Scottish Tories to lodge no confidence motion in John Swinney Getty Images
Scottish Tories plan to lodge motion of no confidence in John Swinney.

The Scottish Tories will this week lodge a motion of no confidence in deputy first minister John Swinney over the publication of legal advice.

On two occasions, MSPs have voted to compel the Scottish Government to produce legal advice taken as part of the legal challenge brought by Alex Salmond over its harassment complaints procedure, but ministers have so far not handed the advice over.

The Scottish Government went on to concede the judicial review into the investigation of Salmond, which Judge Lord Pentland said was “tainted with apparent bias”.

Last December, Swinney wrote in a letter to Linda Fabiani, the convener of the committee looking into the handling of complaints against Salmond, that he was keen to find a “practical way” for the advice to be handed over to the committee, but no such arrangement has been put in place.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “We are giving the Scottish Government one last chance to be transparent and respect the will of the Scottish Parliament. 

“Twice, opposition parties united to call for the legal advice to be released. The cross-party Holyrood committee have pleaded with the government to produce it. 

“The government said they would listen but they clearly have not. The legal advice remains hidden.”

Ross said the legal advice is crucial to “uncovering the specific mistakes that lost more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money and let the women at the heart of this investigation down”. 

He added: “We urge other opposition parties to support this move. It is not about politics, it’s about getting to the truth of what happened. Without the evidence, that will not happen. 

“We will gladly withdraw this motion if the legal advice is released.” 

If the motion goes to a vote, it would be the second time in less than a year that Swinney would face such a debate on his position.

In August the Deputy First Minister, who also holds the education portfolio, came under heavy criticism from opposition parties over a scandal that developed around the qualifications process put in place as a result of Covid-19.

Under the new system, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), would moderate teacher-estimated grades, a process that saw more than 124,000 marks downgraded and disproportionately affected those from more impoverished areas.

Swinney survived that vote thanks to the backing of the Scottish Greens.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:  “The Government has provided the committee with detailed evidence on its legal position at all the key points of the judicial review including the open record of the pleadings and over two-and-a-half hours of oral evidence by the Lord Advocate.

“This is in addition to the unprecedented step the Scottish Government took in giving the committee access to a detailed summary of the legal advice on a confidential basis.  

“If there is a need to (provide) further information, the Scottish Government stands ready to discuss that with the committee.  

“We are conscious that we must enable the committee to fulfil its remit without creating a general waiver of legal privilege that could limit the ability of future Scottish Governments to request and receive candid legal advice in future litigation.”