Analysis: Scottish Government must release legal advice around Alex Salmond inquiry

We now know one side of the story in regards to the £500,000 judicial review.

The Salmond inquiry is underway at the Scottish Parliament
The Salmond inquiry is underway at the Scottish Parliament

Emails, released as part of the Salmond inquiry, include aspects of the former first minister’s evidence produced for the judicial review and underline why Alex Salmond was so confident of a legal victory.

It is clear the former first minister’s lawyers viewed the process as being dogged with problems with accusations of unfairness and competency, and even if they were exaggerated in an attempt to protect their client’s reputation during correspondence, they ultimately proved to be at least partially well-founded.

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What is striking throughout the emails is the Scottish Government’s either deliberate obfuscation or fundamental legal incompetence in responding to the queries.

Whatever the legal merit of the specifics, the decision to reject independent arbitration – where a retired judge or similarly qualified legal expert would have solved the disputes that became the heart of the judicial review case – seems bizarre.

Why was the Scottish Government so confident it was right? Presumably their own correspondence with Mr Salmond’s legal team set out their own legal viewpoint on the issues raised, but that is being kept secret.

If they didn’t, why do the quoted sections of the emails from the Scottish Government paint a picture of an uncertain institution failing to see the wood for the trees in relation to the problems its own procedure had created?

And why, after failing to respond to legal points which they were explicitly warned would lead to judicial review action, did they reject the opportunity to avoid such a public dispute with arbitration?

The released emails may only be one side of the story, and they should be taken with a pinch of salt, but it is hard to disagree with the solicitors from Levy and McRae when they state they “fail to see the logic” of rejecting arbitration.

There is now no excuse and frankly no benefit for the Scottish Government to continue to refuse to release its legal advice.

Continued secrecy offers no answers to critics or the inquiry and will provide opportunity for conspiracy accusations to grow, rather than dissipate.

Surely a publicly admitted cock-up, rather than secretive denials, would be preferable?

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