DAVID Cameron waded into the row engulfing Alex Salmond over EU membership yesterday, claiming the case for Scottish independence “completely falls apart” under scrutiny.
The Prime Minister led a barrage of criticism of Mr Salmond following the revelation that the Scottish Government had not sought legal advice on an independent Scotland joining the European Union.
At Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister was asked about the Scottish Government’s £12,000 legal fight to suppress whether or not it had actually commissioned any legal advice on EU membership.
Earlier this week, the Scottish Government announced it was ending its court battle against the Freedom of Information Commissioner when Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed no such advice existed.
In the Commons, Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart asked Mr Cameron to promise that, unlike other UK parliamentary leaders, he would not spent thousands “fighting the release of legal advice that you don’t hold and never asked for?”
Mr Cameron replied: “You ask a baffling question about a truly baffling situation, which is that we were told by the First Minister in Scotland that he had legal advice in the European Union in the event of independence.
“It turns out now they didn’t have any legal advice at all, and I think what this shows is when you shine the spotlight on the case for separation the SNP put, it completely falls apart.”
Mr Salmond’s credibility was dealt a further blow when Spain’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margello told the Spanish senate that Scotland would have to “join the queue” and negotiate EU membership as a new member state.
Mr Garcia-Margello said: “In the hypothetical case of independence, Scotland would have to join the queue and ask to be admitted, needing the unanimous approval of all member states to obtain the status of a candidate country and to sign the final treaty [of accession].”
Mr Cameron was speaking the day after Mr Salmond was accused by Labour of telling “barefaced lies” over his government’s position on whether or not legal advice had been sought on an independent Scotland’s EU membership.
Shortly after Ms Sturgeon announced that no such advice had been taken, Mr Salmond’s opponents dug out footage of the First Minister appearing to suggest in a BBC interview in March that legal advice had, in fact, been taken.
Mr Salmond claimed his opponents had selectively quoted the interview and denied Labour claims that he was a liar.
But last night, Labour MEP Catherine Stihler wrote to Mr Salmond suggesting he had abused his power and asking him to clarify whether or not he had broken the ministerial code.
Ms Stihler pointed out that Mr Salmond had cited the ministerial code when defending his government’s decision to fight attempts to use Freedom of Information legislation to find out whether EU legal advice had been taken.
In her letter, Ms Stihler said: “Can I ask where in the ministerial code does it allow ministers to defend a blank sheet of paper rather than answering a specific question, yes or no?
“I call on your services to now formally investigate whether the ministerial code has been broken and whether a clear abuse of power and position has taken place.”
The controversy over EU membership erupted earlier this week, on the same day that two MSPs quit the SNP in protest over the party’s U-turn over Nato membership.
Faced with speculation that other MSPs could join John Finnie and Jean Urquhart and jump ship, Mr Salmond took the rare step of attending yesterday’s group meeting of SNP MSPs at Holyrood. On the way out of the meeting he refused to say whether he expected any other MSPs to leave the party.
When asked if he expected more resignations, the First Minister said: “It was a very excellent meeting”.
Also at the meeting was John Wilson MSP, one of the most prominent critics of the SNP’s decision to embrace membership of Nato.
Holyrood was awash with rumours that Mr Wilson would also leave the party. But last night, he issued to a statement to The Scotsman saying he would remain in the party.
On Ms Stihler’s letter referring to the ministerial code, a spokesman for Mr Salmond said: ““Since Mr Salmond became First Minister he has been referred five times under the ministerial code - and he has been cleared in every single case.”
On the issue of EU membership, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has previously cited opinions from a number of eminent legal authorities, past and present, in support of its view that an independent Scotland will continue in membership of the European Union.”