Last week marked two years since Catherine Stihler MEP submitted an FOI to the Scottish Government regarding legal advice on Europe – asking a straightforward question – and she is yet to receive a straightforward answer.
The Scottish Information Commissioner is still handling the case despite its ruling in July 2012 that Ministers were not entitled to refuse to reveal whether the information existed or was held by the Scottish Government at the time of Stihler’s request. Ministers were ordered to reveal the information by August last year but instead the SNP went to the lengths and substantial costs to the taxpayer of lodging an appeal with the Court of Session, only to come out and say the advice did not even exist.
Stihler’s request for clarity continues in light of Sir David Bell’s report which stated: “It stretched credulity to have argued that it (The Scottish Government) held no information”. The First Minister stated in a letter on November 22 that they were only then seeking specific legal advice, however, the Scottish Government’s formal response to Stihler’s December 21 letter on March 6this year contradicts this by confirming that legal advice underpinned documents referring to an independent Scotland and EU membership dating back to 2007.
So what advice did exist? Contradictory information by both the First Minister and in the statement to parliament by the Deputy First Minister leaves questions unanswered.
Catherine Stihler MEP said:
“It is overwhelmingly in the public interest to know what advice the Scottish Government holds about the circumstances of their main policy. Participants in the referendum must be fully informed of what they are voting for.
“We need to ensure open, transparent and accountable government. The disclosure of such information would lead to a more informed public understanding of the effect of the constitutional position of an independent Scotland regarding EU membership.
“My FOI was in the best interests of the people of Scotland and the future of our country. The public deserve to have their questions about the future of Scotland answered fairly, openly and honestly.
“First there was no legal advice, now there is some and we still don’t get to know what it is. The SNP know the more honest they are with the people of Scotland; the more the public don’t like what they hear.
“I am now calling on the Scottish Government to release the information they have on this critical issue. The fact that they have so far refused to do so proves transparency in Scotland is a myth.”