ALEX Salmond was last night embroiled in fresh allegations of “distorting the truth” in a row with a leading expert who clashed with the SNP over the independence referendum.
One of the First Minister’s closest advisers has been accused of orchestrating a “cover-up” after urging Professor Matt Qvortrup to publicly denounce his own claims that a second referendum question on more powers for Holyrood was untenable.
Fresh questions are also emerging over an inquiry by Scotland’s top civil servant, Peter Housden, which cleared special adviser Kevin Pringle.
Although the information had been recorded in the Scottish Parliament’s information centre before the new year, it was not picked up on by opposition politicians, who instead launched a freedom of information bid to have the correspondence made public. Last night, there were suggestions that the details of the conversations which have come to light were swept under the carpet shortly before Christmas.
Controversy erupted over the affair last October, when Prof Qvortrup declined to accept the Scottish Government’s version of events. Mr Salmond was forced to apologise to parliament when it emerged that he had misled MSPs by wrongfully claiming that a letter from Prof Qvortrup had been sent to the Times recanting his criticism of the three-option referendum.
Now, the full extent of Mr Pringle’s attempts to get the academic to change tack, after his views appeared, have come to light. Mr Pringle drafted a letter for the academic to send to the newspaper recanting the criticism of the SNP’s plans – then urged Prof Qvortrup to claim that he had acted first without interference from the government.
An e-mail from the adviser to Prof Qvortrup states: “I will say that you contacted me and sent me a copy, because we have spoken about such matters in the past. I would advise you not to take press calls, but to let this speak for itself.”
Two damning e-mail exchanges between Mr Pringle and the academic, which were not initially released along with four other e-mails, have now emerged.
They were not released with the others in November by the government, but were lodged in the Scottish Parliament’s information centre four days before Christmas, following a parliamentary question.
Labour’s freedom of information bid to have the e-mails made public was originally rejected, but an appeal was succesful.
Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife John Park, said: “This is a disturbing insight into Alex Salmond’s government, hectoring anyone who disagrees with them and then conspiring wholesale to cover their tracks.
“Rather than being a simple misunderstanding by the First Minister, this was a calculated attempt to distort the truth for his own political advantage.”
Prof Qvortrup said last night that he believed it had been an “honest mistake” on the part of the SNP.