Financial Times

24 octubre 2012 19:29

Salmond to be grilled on legal advice claim

By George Parker and Kiran Stacey

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, faces a torrid question time at Holyrood on Thursday amid claims he “lied” over whether he had sought legal advice on Scotland’s future in the EU and then used taxpayers’ money to cover it up.

Mr Salmond’s grip on Scottish politics has been weakened by the affair, with the media denouncing his conduct. The Scottish Sun, a former supporter, led its front page with the headline: “EU Liar”.

The first minister will have to explain to members of the Edinburgh parliament why he claimed to have sought formal legal advice on whether an independent Scotland would automatically become an EU member, when he had not.

Mr Salmond’s administration used public money to go to court to prevent the disclosure of whether the legal advice had been given or not.

The Scottish National party leader, who is arguing for his country’s independence in a referendum in 2014, has enjoyed supremacy over Scottish politics in recent months but now faces one of his biggest tests.

Earlier this week two SNP members of the Scottish parliament quit in protest at Mr Salmond’s plan to reverse the party’s opposition to remaining part of Nato, cutting his Holyrood majority to just one.

David Cameron, prime minister, said: “We were told, I believe by the first minister in Scotland, that he had legal advice on Scotland’s place in the EU in the event of independence. It turns out now they didn’t have legal advice at all.”

Mr Salmond claims Scotland would automatically become a member of the EU if it became independent, bypassing a lengthy negotiation and possible opposition from Spain, which fears regions such as Catalonia and the Basque Country breaking away.

Asked on the BBC in March whether he had been given this advice from his own Scottish law officers, Mr Salmond said: “We have, yes, in terms of the debate.” He then went on to say he could not “reveal the legal advice of law officers”.

But on Tuesday Nicola Sturgeon, Mr Salmond’s deputy, announced the Scottish government would now seek legal advice on EU membership and that it was dropping its attempt to block disclosure of the earlier – apparently non-existent – advice.

Mr Salmond denies lying and Ms Sturgeon said: “Any fair-minded person who reads the entire transcript of that interview would see that . . . [he was] talking about the general debate.”

But Alistair Darling, Labour former chancellor and leader of the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK, said: “Alex Salmond is wounded for the first time because he has been caught out blatantly manipulating things.”