John Swinney came under fire for the Scottish Government’s failure to hand over legal advice it received during its doomed court battle with the former First Minister, as MSPs voted for a second time to demand its release.
The committee examining the government’s botched handling of complaints about Mr Salmond – which ultimately cost the taxpayer over £600,000 – have repeatedly requested the papers, and say their work is now being “obstructed” by its absence.
In a Holyrood debate, Tory MSP Murdo Fraser warned “time is running out” for members to meet their deadline of concluding oral evidence by Christmas, which he insisted would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” unless the legal advice is forthcoming.
He said: “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is a government which is cynically running down the clock, hoping that time will overtake us and we will not be able to do the job parliament expects.
“If (ministers) want to have any shred of credibility left when it comes to openness and respecting the will of parliament they must produce the legal advice.”
MSPs voted 65 to 55 in favour of the advice being published. It comes three weeks after a separate parliamentary vote also called for the same outcome, at which point Mr Swinney said he would “consider the implications of the motion”.
But today Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, who also sits on the committee, said Mr Swinney’s pace “makes a snail look like a sprinter” and told him he’d had “20 months to get your act together on this”.
She said: “What we are facing is a complete and utter farce. The Scottish Government like to think of themselves as world leaders and indeed they are – world leaders in dissembling, obstruction and secrecy.
“The Scottish Government is a joke and should be embarrassed at how incompetent it appears to be.”
Lib Dem committee member Alex Cole-Hamilton also suggested Mr Swinney could face a no confidence vote in parliament if he continues to withhold the advice.
Mr Swinney said “no final decision has been made by the government” on whether the documents would be produced, and refused to say if law officers had been consulted about its release.
“The government has made significant detail on our legal position to the committee through the evidence already provided.
“This is not a straightforward decision, there is no clear precedent for the Scottish Government to waive legal privilege in these circumstances and there is very real potential for negative consequences from such a decision.”
After the government defeat, Mr Fraser said Mr Swinney’s “credibility has been shattered by defending the indefensible”, adding: “It’s clearer than ever that the SNP have something damning to hide.”