Alex Salmond case shows how SNP is running Scotland in a dangerous way – Brian Wilson

What was devolution meant to achieve? Most would say that it was about making government more accountable. Or taking responsibility for our own decisions…?

Will Nicola Sturgeon be held to account over care home deaths and the Scottish Government's handling of complaints against Alex Salmond

It is occasionally worth taking stock of reality when set against such objectives. What we find is not so much the new Scottish Enlightenment as a centralised power clique, hiding behind secrecy and feeding off grievance.

There were a couple of striking examples this week, each the subject of debates at Holyrood in which, unusually, the SNP administration lost the votes. But what difference will that make?

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At Westminster, there are always MPs with sufficient independence of mind to vote against their own government on specific issues. For example, this week, 34 Tory MPs did their career prospects no good by voting against the lockdown measures.

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Alex Salmond inquiry: SNP government must publish legal advice or suspicions of ...

It never, ever happens at Holyrood. The SNP’s nodding donkeys might as well be replaced by programmed voting machines. Some praise it as “discipline” while others see only the uniformity of mediocrity. The net result is the same.

None the wiser

First up on Wednesday was a debate arising out of the MSPs’ committee considering how allegations against Alex Salmond were handled by the ruling cabal of politicians and civil servants. The key question was whether legal advice to ministers on whether they had a case to defend should be published.

Self-evidently it should be, if there is any interest in getting to the truth of this otherwise impenetrable matter. Most of this week’s evidence to the committee was taken up with questioning a Scottish Government lawyer around what and when ministers were told about the flawed nature of their case. Nobody was any the wiser as a result.

Releasing the legal advice would answer these questions in five minutes. It would also be consistent with the otherwise meaningless promises by Ms Sturgeon to assist the work of the committee which – she said - "will be able to request whatever material they want… the government and I will co-operate fully with it”. The opposite has proven to be the case.

Brassing it out

In defence of not publishing the advice, she pleaded legal privilege. But that, of course, is only half the story. The ministerial code goes on to say that advice can be released “if, in exceptional circumstances, ministers feel that the balance of public interest lies in disclosing (it) on a particular matter”.

Everyone else in Holyrood agreed that the Salmond case met that description. Indeed, it is quite a confession by Ms Sturgeon if she regards continuing to go through the motions of defending a case you have been told is unwinnable, regardless of cost to public funds, as “unexceptional”.

It now remains to be seen if Ms Sturgeon will do as instructed by MSPs and release the legal advice. Or will it be another case of brassing it out on the assumption that most of Scotland is not much interested in the truth? That’s a dangerous basis on which to govern.

Disrespectful to Parliament

The next debate was about the care home scandal which has been accompanied by more than 2,000 deaths of elderly Scots – a hideously high rate of attrition. Unsurprisingly, all MSPs except Ms Sturgeon’s own troops thought there should be a full inquiry and the sooner the better. They voted accordingly.

So what is the Scottish Government response? To deflect, of course. The same people whose only real interest is in breaking up the United Kingdom want a “four-nation” approach to investigating what happened in care homes. The idea of accepting their own responsibilities is, as always, anathema.

There may well be common traits throughout the UK and beyond but the NHS in Scotland is fully devolved. All relevant decisions were taken by the devolved government of Scotland – and that is the only basis for the inquiry our Parliament required. How disrespectful to evade it.

Devolution of powers was meant to be matched by strengthened accountability through MSPs. The Scottish government – which effectively means Ms Sturgeon – has plenty powers and there is no shortage of MSPs. Only accountability seems to have been lost along the way.

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