Alex Salmond inquiry: Nicola Sturgeon and Jackie Baillie clash over legal advice

The First Minister was challenged on a “litany of failures, errors in the investigation, errors in the judicial review and errors in the supply of information”, as she was asked why no-one had resigned over the Scottish Government’s unlawful handling of the complaints against Alex Salmond.

In the most heated exchange of the day at the Holyrood committee on Wednesday where Nicola Sturgeon is giving evidence on how the government lost in the courts, Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said she had never felt as frustrated in 22 years of being on parliamentary committees “as with this one”.

"We’ve waited for information from the Scottish Government, the stuff we’ve received has been partial and late,” Ms Baillie said.

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"The complaints handling phase was due in August, we received it in December. The legal advice has taken two votes in Parliament and a motion of no confidence in John Swinney before we saw it last night at 6pm.

Nicola Sturgeon and Jackie Baillie clashed during her evidence session.

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“And there’s information missing … it’s not been given to us. Do you understand the frustration of the committee that it looks as if the government doesn’t want to give us critical information?"

Ms Sturgeon said she also felt frustration, but that some of the information demanded was “not down to the government” to release.

She said: "I would take issue with the characterisation of delay and prevarication. There have been really complex issues behind the provision of some of this information ... the legal constraints in place. I think the government has fully co-operated with the committee.

"Every time there has been information, a lot of mystique and intrigue has been built up around it. Once it’s published, it’s found that’s not the case.

"You look at the legal advice in the round and see some of the things which have been said about the government’s position is not borne out.”

She said she would “reflect” on what Ms Baillie had said, but was interrupted by the Scottish Labour MSP, who said the “time for reflection has passed”.

Ms Baillie said: “You have described these errors as catastrophic. That’s a strong word, tell me why then nobody has resigned? Nobody has taken responsibility of this, because at the heart of this two women have been let down.”

Ms Sturgeon said that as head of the government she was ultimately responsible. But she added: “In the sense of I wasn’t directly involved in the problems that led directly to the judicial review collapsing, then no I wasn’t directly involved, but that doesn’t mean I can sit here and say I bear no responsibility.”

Earlier Ms Sturgeon had said the situation “was horrendous for everybody who had to deal with it”.

She said: “This was an invidious difficult situation and people got things wrong. Maybe that’s made me too likely to be understanding of people who made mistakes.”

Ms Sturgeon also said she had a “concern” about government legal advice being routinely asked for and published, “because I think that will undermine the basis on which governments properly inform their decisions”.

Ms Sturgeon said ministers had "genuinely-held views and concerns about the basis on which governments need to be able to take confidential legal advice".

She added: "When Alex Salmond was first minister, he held those views as strongly as I do now."

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