Scottish local elections 2022: Douglas Ross refuses to say UK Government should release its legal advice on independence referendum

Douglas Ross has refused to commit to calling for the UK Government to release its legal advice around a potential second independence referendum.

It comes as Nicola Sturgeon came under pressure after failing to commit to the Scottish Government publishing aspects of its legal advice on indyref2 despite a ruling from the Scottish Information Commissioner.

Following a 13-month long transparency battle with The Scotsman, commissioner Daren Fitzhenry ruled parts of the Government’s legal advice on the legality of a second independence referendum must be published.

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He gave ministers until June 10 to publish the information, though the First Minister told the BBC the Government was still “considering” the ruling and could choose to challenge it in the courts.

Speaking at a campaign event alongside former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, in Portobello, Edinburgh, Mr Ross refused to comment on whether the UK Government should publish its legal advice on the issue, if it had sought any.

He said he did not know whether the UK Government had sought legal advice and, when asked whether it should be released on a point of principle, pointed journalists towards the Scotland Office and the Cabinet Office.

The Scottish Tory leader said: “I can't give a point of principle on something I don't know and I'm not accountable for.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross (left) and former Scottish Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson stop to have an ice cream at Oscars during a visit to Portobello, Edinburgh, on the local election campaign trail.

“But there's plenty of people, both with the Scottish Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Office, plenty of people will be able to provide that information.”

Mr Ross added: “The information commissioner's ruling was very clear. You can't read it in any other way than the Government have to release this information by June 10

“This forms a pattern of Nicola Sturgeon and her Government trying to keep things secret.

"Nicola Sturgeon has to be up front and adhere to the ruling of the information commissioner because, as they said, there's a clear public interest element to this inquiry.”

Speaking to the BBC, the First Minister said the Government was still considering the ruling “carefully”, and claimed releasing the information could still breach the ministerial code.

She explained that was because of the “long-standing convention” of not publishing legal advice to allow governments to receive “free and frank” advice.

Ms Sturgeon said: “So if we are to depart from that convention – it’s quite a significant thing, it goes against precedent and we want to consider that carefully.”

Mr Ross also rejected the suggestion the UK Government’s response to Partygate of putting up barriers to information and delaying its release was the same as the Scottish Government's approach in terms of the ferries fiasco and indyref2 legal advice.

He said: “Nicola Sturgeon loves to say there are 200 documents numbering something like 1,500 pages and all the information is there because it is not, because [Auditor General] Stephen Boyle has been very clear that all the information is not there.

“If Nicola Sturgeon wants to be open and transparent, she has to match her rhetoric with her actions and at the moment she doesn't.

“[On Partygate], there's a lot been published so far and we've got the privileges committee that are looking into it and they'll be able to compel any information. We've got the Sue Gray report coming, we've got a Met inquiry, so there's actually quite a lot of investigations.

“Here in Scotland the public audit committee are struggling to get to the bottom of things in the same way the Auditor General is.”

Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

It's available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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