Motion of No Confidence

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 10th March 2021.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

No, because I need to put across an important point.

The outcomes of those discussions are reflected in the pleadings that were made to the court by the Government, which we shared with the committee some months ago. The documents that we released confirm that, in September, the clear view of counsel was that our prospects were good. They identified risks, as such opinions always do, but it was a positive assessment of our case. As time went on and problems emerged, the picture shifted, and external counsel became concerned and then alarmed. However, as late as in a note dated 11 December, the Lord Advocate was clear that there should be no question of conceding. Even on 17 December, external counsel agreed that the case remained stateable. It was the note of counsel of 19 December that led directly to the case being conceded.

None of that is hidden. Let us be frank about what we have released. It paints a clear picture—warts and all—and no embarrassment for the Government is spared in the publication of those documents. It is worth reflecting for a moment on the significance of what the Government has done in that case. We have taken the extraordinary and unprecedented step of publishing formal legal advice of the kind that no previous Government in Scotland has published and we have done so in response to the request of the committee and to motions that were passed by Parliament. In any fair interpretation of what the Government has done, the Tories’ pursuit of the motion today is now entirely baseless. With an election only weeks away, I suspect that the reality is that they were always intent on pushing the motion to a vote, regardless of what action the Government had taken.

I have sought to provide the committee with the information that it needed to do its work. We have supplied the committee with thousands of pages of documents. I have sought to ensure that the Government—and all future Governments—retains its ability to take frank, unvarnished legal advice, and I have sought to meet my obligations to Parliament. There are always clearly conflicting judgments that have to be resolved, alongside those three factors.

It is now for this chamber to judge whether those actions, which were taken in good faith, are sufficient to command their confidence. Since January 2019, this Government has accepted that mistakes were made in the handling of those complaints. As a result, two women were badly let down, and the Government must and will learn lessons from those mistakes.