FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon challenged on 'defending the indefensible' over Alex Salmond judicial review

Nicola Sturgeon was challenged on her involvement in deciding to “defend the indefensible” against the advice of senior external counsel as the Scottish Government barrelled towards defeat in the judicial review brought by Alex Salmond.

The First Minister also faced accusations from Scottish Conservative’s Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson that her ruling party cannot be trusted by sexual harassment complainants to deal with complaints properly following allegations surfaced against the SNP’s chief whip in Westminster Patrick Grady.

During the exchanges, Ms Sturgeon said she will likely be “haunted” for the rest of her life after the error by the Scottish Government “let down” two women who made complaints.

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Ms Davidson highlighted the fact that Ms Sturgeon questioned the advice from Roddy Dunlop QC, which said conceding the judicial review was the “least worst option”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was challenged on why she did not listen to senior counsel's warnings on the judicial review
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was challenged on why she did not listen to senior counsel's warnings on the judicial review

She said the cost of ignoring this advice was an additional £130,000 to the taxpayer.

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Responding, Ms Sturgeon accused the opposition of “chasing phantoms” in the hope of finding “horrors underneath” and instead should “focus on what is there” among the “unprecedented” publication of “substantive” legal advice into the public domain.

Admitting the legal advice sets out the error made by the Scottish Government “warts and all”, the First Minister said her government was determined to learn lessons from the mistakes made.

Suggesting that taxpayer money would have been saved if Ms Sturgeon had heeded the advice of senior counsel on December 6, Ms Davidson asked: “Why did the First Minister think she was a better lawyer than Roddy Dunlop QC and the advocate Christine O’Neill?”

Ms Sturgeon said: “I didn’t and I absolutely most definitely don’t, but what I do know is that it is my job as First Minister to ask questions.”

She added that as First Minister, the ministerial code states she is “duty bound” to follow the advice of the law officers and that they on December 11 said there were still “credible arguments … across all of the points of the petition”.

The Scottish Tory leader said during the First Minister’s evidence session in front of the Salmond inquiry, Ms Sturgeon had become “very forgetful” and that she was “determined to forget that it was her government who were the ones who failed these women so badly”.

Ms Davidson said five people, including a QC and a civil servant, now said a senior government official had leaked the name of a complainant to Mr Salmond’s team.

She also said her “clear understanding” is that Laura Dunlop QC's review into the internal Scottish Government failings around the application of the complaints procedure had “reported in writing”.

Pressuring the First Minister to “publish it now”, Ms Davidson said “this week has shown again that sexual harassment complainants cannot deal the ruling party to deal with a complaint properly”.

Her comments come after Mr Grady stepped down from his role following the submission of a formal harassment complaint against him.

Responding, Ms Sturgeon disputed the allegation that a complainant’s name was leaked and said the Dunlop review would be published “in early course”.

She said: “I will be haunted for probably the rest of my life about the way in which the government through an error … let down those women.

"As head of the Scottish Government, I take and I feel responsibility for that, which is why I think it is so important to cast aside the politics in this and actually focus on the substance.”

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