The Scottish Tories will press ahead with a vote of no confidence in the Deputy First Minister until all advice from the Alex Salmond legal action is released.
MSPs have voted twice to release the advice, given months before the Scottish Government conceded a case brought by the former first minister into the handling of complaints against him, but the Scottish Government has so far resisted.
However, following the tabling of a no-confidence motion against Swinney which opposition parties indicated they would support, he announced on Monday “key legal advice” would be released, confirming in a letter to the inquiry set up to look into the affair it would be sent to them on Tuesday afternoon.
“We will press ahead with the vote of no confidence until all the legal advice is published.”
Tory leader Douglas Ross has said the party will press ahead with the vote until the advice is published in full.
“Recklessly continuing with the judicial review when it was doomed would clearly be a breach of the ministerial code,” Ross said.
“The public deserve to know exactly what mistakes were made.
“John Swinney is not getting away with releasing only the evidence he wants us to see. We will press ahead with the vote of no confidence until all the legal advice is published.
“I’d like to thank other opposition parties for supporting Scottish Conservative moves to have the legal advice released for a third time.
“The government must be held to account and by uniting behind our motion, we will ensure the will of the Scottish Parliament is respected.”
Ross’ comments come as two members of the inquiry also called for the motion of no confidence to remain on the table.
Independent MSP Andy Wightman and Tory Murdo Fraser took to Twitter on Monday, taking exception with the announcement of “key legal advice” being released.
Wightman said it was not for the Scottish Government to decide what is considered to be “key”, adding: “Keep that vote of no confidence on the table.”
Fraser said: “Hearing tonight that the key legal advice being offered by [the Scottish Government] may, in fact, be a carefully selected set of documents designed to paint them in a good light and not give the full picture.
“If true, then that is appalling bad faith, and we will pursue the [vote of no confidence] in John Swinney.”
In his letter to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, Swinney admitted there were “reservations” expressed about the case after it emerged the investigating officer had prior contact with the complainers.
But he added there were “good public policy arguments and reasonable grounds for the government to continue to defend the judicial review”.
The parliamentary bureau, the body which handles Holyrood’s scheduling, is due to discuss the motion on Tuesday morning.
Nurses have branded the Scottish Government temporary pay rise for NHS staff “a disgrace”.
Health secretary Jeane Freeman wrote to NHS employees to explain they will be given a 1% rise backdated to December 2020 until negotiations can be concluded.
But campaign group NHS Workers Say No said the move was to cover delaying discussions over pay until after the Holyrood elections on May.
Brenda Eadie, nurse and Glasgow-based organiser, told STV News: “It’s a token to say we’re still looking at it, but they are delaying doing til after the elections.
“So we lose all our leverage, and realistically we’ll end up with 3.5%. Nothing is going to get better, it’s going to get worse.”
Staff affected are those directly employed by health boards under the Agenda for Change system – approximately 150,000 NHS workers.
Campaigners and unions say NHS staff have suffered real-term pay cuts over the past decade, with pay not rising in line with inflation.
“We do our jobs until we drop. But right now, most of us have already dropped.”
Brenda Eadie, nurse and organiser
Ms Eadie said members campaigning for fair pay have been insulted, with one describing the 1% offer as “another wee slap in the face”.
In her letter, Freeman pointed out that Scottish staff are the best paid in the UK and said the government is committed to maintaining the “premium”.
Pauline Brady, a mental health nurse and Nurses say No organiser, said: “It’s strange how Scottish NHS campaigners are told they should be quiet because we have been offered more than England/Wales.
“I couldn’t imagine feeling like that about any part of the NHS. We are all grossly underpaid and the fight is a joint one.”
Last year, nurses and other frontline NHS workers staged a number of protests after they were left out of a public sector pay rise.
Doctors and dentists, along with other public sector staff, were given a pay bump of 2.8% but this did not include all NHS workers with nurses, cleaners and porters left out.
Hundreds of protesters gathered on Saturday, August 8, at Glasgow Green, with other demonstrations held across the UK.
A car rally protest toured hospitals in and around Glasgow and Ayrshire on Saturday, November 14.
“NHS workers have never felt so demoralized and they know it’s time to fight for our worth.”
Brenda Eadie, nurse and organiser
Now, campaigners say, staff are prepared to take unprecedented industrial action.
Ms Eadie said: “They want to strike they are ready to strike, NHS workers have never felt so demoralized and they know it’s time to fight for our worth.
“Historically, because of the amount we care, we don’t walk away. We do our jobs until we drop.
“But right now, most of us have already dropped, working 60-hour weeks just to make ends meet.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader and health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “NHS and care staff have been on the frontline of this pandemic, dealing with death every day for the last year.
“We need to see the Scottish Government reward these vital workers with a pay rise that reflects the work that they do and the danger they have been put in.
“It’s time for Kate Forbes and Jeane Freeman to get round the table with NHS workers and their unions, and hammer out a pay increase that reflects the vital work our NHS heroes do.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “NHS Scotland Agenda for Change staff are already the best paid in the UK, and in recognition of an exceptional year of significant pressure NHS Agenda for Change staff, including nurses, will receive an interim pay increase of 1% which will be backdated to December 1 ahead of the final 2021-22 pay settlement.
“This follows the £500 thank you payment announced earlier.
“While pay increases are usually effective from April 1 both the 1% interim rise and the full pay settlement, once agreed, will be backdated to December 1, 2020.
“Formal negotiations over staff pay have been affected by the cancellation of the UK Government’s budget and subsequent impact on the Scottish Spending Review.
“Scotland is the only part of the UK to have provided this interim uplift, and recent reports suggest the UK Government’s budget this week will not specify funding for a pay uplift for NHS England staff before the pay review body has completed its work in May.”
John Swinney had admitted the legal advice reveals concerns about the unlawful investigation of Alex Salmond but claimed there were “good public policy grounds” to not concede the case for another three months.
After agreeing to hand over the “key” legal advice following the threat of a no-confidence vote, the deputy first minister said government lawyers “have not identified any documents” that support Salmond’s claim the government deliberately delayed conceding the case in the hope a criminal trial would “overtake” his judicial review.
The Scottish Government launched an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by the former first minister but it was found to be unlawful, unfair and “tainted by apparent bias” because of prior contact between the investigating officer and two of the women who complained.
Although the investigating officer, Judith Mackinnon, said under oath that she had always been open about the contact with complainers, Scottish Government lawyers purportedly did not learn of it until October 2018, nine months after the investigation began.
It took the Scottish Government until January 8 for the government to concede the case – a week before the full judicial review was due to start.
The former first minister, who was awarded maximum legal costs of £512,250 in part because of the late concession, has alleged that the government had hoped a looming criminal trial would “ride to the rescue” and prevent its unlawful investigation suffering a “cataclysmic” civil court defeat.
In November 2020, the Scottish Parliament twice passed motions demanding the government publish all the legal advice it had received about Salmond’s judicial review.
After a motion of no confidence was lodged on Monday in the deputy first minister over the government’s refusal to comply with the will of parliament, Swinney agreed to hand over the “key” legal advice to the Holyrood inquiry into the botched investigation.
In a letter ahead of the release of the legal advice, Swinney acknowledged lawyers had raised “reservations” about the issue of prior contact.
But he insisted there were “good public policy arguments and reasonable grounds for the government to continue to defend the judicial review and to seek a determination from the court on the matters raised, until the events of late December 2018”.
That December, a private civil court commission was held ahead of the planned court hearing as part of efforts by Salmond’s legal team to get the government to hand over evidence.
Swinney added: “During his evidence session with the committee on Friday, Mr Salmond also raised an allegation that there was a desire within government to seek to sist [pause] the judicial review once the issue of prior contact with the complainers was identified.
“I have asked officials to review the relevant documentation, but they have not identified any documents which support this allegation.”
Swinney, who is leading the government’s response to the committee after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recused herself, suggested he agreed to release the legal advice over concern that the allegations “could impact negatively on public confidence in the parliament, government and even our justice institutions.”
He said the legal advice would be provided to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints on Tuesday afternoon – after they have questioned the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe; the head of the Crown Office and the Scottish Government’s chief legal advisor.
Mr Wolffe rejected criticism of the Crown Office as he appeared before the committee on Tuesday morning.
He said: “Any suggestion, from any quarter, that the Crown’s decision-making has at any time been influenced by irrelevant considerations or improper motivations would be wholly without foundation.
“Insinuation and assertions to the contrary are baseless.”
Edinburgh City Council has written off more than £1.3m-worth of parking fines, after failing to collect more than 17,000 fixed penalty notices.
The council has also written off more than 3200 fines accrued by motorists using bus lanes in the capital, worth £284,960.
The most common reasons for avoiding fines is due to the vehicle being foreign, the DVLA having no record of the vehicle and the owner having no money or assets.
According to a report, due to be presented to councillors at a meeting of the finance committee on Thursday, March 4, more than 6500 of the fines were also written off due to the owners having “gone away”.
The report reads: “The Corporate Debt Policy allows a measured response to debt recovery, while recognising that a small proportion of the council’s overall income may not be collectable due to matters outside its control.
“Where a debt is assessed to be irrecoverable it is subject to a write-off process that is consistent with recognised accounting best practice.
“The council has sought to minimise the cost of write-offs by taking all appropriate action to recover what is due, with monies only being written off as a last resort after exhausting all other avenues.”
The council has also had to write off millions of pounds of debts owed for council tax, non-domestic rates and housing benefit overpayments.
In 2019/20, the council has written off £1.87m of council tax debt, £3.17m of owed non-domestic rate payments, and £428,783 of housing benefit overpayments the local authority was not able to recoup.
In total, the council has failed to collect £7.26m of the debt owed to it in 2019/20, however, this represents just 0.7% of the total collected payments in the same year, which total £1.03bn.
The report continues: “This report details write-off debt values which should be viewed in the context of overall value of income collected and housing benefit paid out and the percentage of debt written off, at 0.7%, is low compared with the sums involved.
“Parking and traffic enforcement have a higher percentage of write offs than other streams.
“This is consistent with historical trends and reflects the nature of the debt type.
“Where appropriate, debts will be secured through inhibitions and/or charging orders.
“Forty-eight per cent of the write off value identified under miscellaneous/sundry debt is underpinned by inhibitions.
“As a result of these actions any free proceeds from the future sale of the identified assets are used to settle the appropriate debt.
“The council will also continue to seek settlement through liquidation, administration and sequestration procedures relevant to the debt type.”
Jobs boost as forest park to be transformed with £2.3m funding
Almost 170 trees will be planted at Cuningar Loop, and new walkways, picnic areas and a teaching amphitheatre are all planned.
A woodland park on the banks of the River Clyde is set to grow after a £2.3m funding boost.
Almost 170 trees will be planted at Cuningar Loop, and new walkways, picnic areas and a teaching amphitheatre are all planned.
An extra 21 acres of currently vacant and derelict land will be added to the existing 37 acres of woodland.
Money has been given to the Clyde Gateway regeneration programme – a partnership between Glasgow City Council, South Lanarkshire Council and Scottish Enterprise – by the Scottish Government.
It comes from the Clyde Mission fund, set up to use the river to drive economic, social and environmental benefits.
More than £11m was handed out to a range of projects in December, including for the transformation of Water Row, Govan, and repairs to the Finnieston Crane.
The Scottish Government now wants people to share their views on other ways to address the “unique opportunities and challenges” around the Clyde.
A ‘Call for Ideas’ has gone live and will close on March 29.
The extra £2.3m for the Cuningar Loop, near Dalmarnock, will help fund Clyde Gateway and NatureScot’s transformation of previously inaccessible land.
Developed alongside and managed by Forestry and Land Scotland, the current park, which opened in 2016, includes adventure play, a bike pump track and a bouldering zone.
Alison Thewliss MP, chair of Clyde Gateway, said: “Green recovery will play a vital role in our response to the pandemic and this exciting new development allows the creation of an exemplar for greenspace and low carbon, which connects health and nature as a priority and one which will be worthy of being showcased on a worldwide stage.”
The extension will include 11,000 square metres of wildflower meadow and grassland, nearly 7000 square metres of new woodland planting and 167 specimen trees.
More woodland walkways, with seating and picnic areas, and a 400m extension of the current riverside walkway are also part of the project.
The educational area and teaching amphitheatre, made using tree trunks, will include a pond. There will also be 50 additional parking spaces.
During the new phase, it is predicted 43 opportunities for youth employment will be created.
Clyde Gateway’s chief executive Ian Manson said: “Cuningar Loop woodland park has been a focal point for Clyde Gateway, and as well as providing an immediate jobs boost in terms of construction, it will help address issues of health inequality, educational attainment and social capital, which have been further impacted by Covid-19.”
The Clyde Mission, which covers either side of the river from Glasgow to the opening between Gourock and Dunoon, is led by the Scottish Government in partnership with local councils, quangos and universities.
Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Government’s economy secretary, said: “It’s our goal to make the river an engine of sustainable and inclusive growth for Glasgow, the region and Scotland.
“We want to understand the priorities and ambitions of people and organisations connected to the river.
“Whether you live or work in the area, this is your opportunity to influence the Clyde Mission’s development and future plans.”
She added: “The river presents challenges as well as opportunities and we want to hear ideas on themes including jobs, skills and how best to bring land back into productive use through projects like the Cuningar Loop woodland park, which benefits communities and the environment.”
By local democracy reporter Drew Sandelands
You're up to date
You've read today's top stories. Where would you like to go next?