What is it with the SNP, secrecy and public money? Last year they spent £100,000 keeping secret the internal Civil Service documents relating to the costs of implementing their ill-fated Local Income Tax. Labour had claimed that the tax would cost in the region of £350-£400 million to implement. The SNP denied this, but refused to release their own calculations. Labour asked for the information under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. FOI Commissioner Kevin Dunnion ruled that the informationshould be revealed but still the Nats refused, preferring to go to appeal at the High Court in Edinburgh and spend £100,000 of public money to delay the publication of the facts until after the 2011 election. In July 2011, after the Scottish elections, the figures were conveniently “leaked” and were confirmed at £380million.
This week, another FOI followed by another SNP refusal to submit to a decision by the Commissioner.
Labour MEP Catherine Stihler asked Scottish Ministers what advice they have received on Scottish membership of the EU (supposing a “yes” vote in a referendum to break up the UK). The SNP insists that Scottish membership of the Union (European) would be a shoo-in, a mere formality with no possible barriers or delays to taking immediate membership of the EU, but they refused to answer Stihler’s direct question, so she put in an FOI request asking if they had received advice on the matter, and what the advice was. The Information Commissioner said that the Nationalists should at least reveal if they had sought and been given legal advice on EU membership. The SNP Government immediately appealed the Commissioner’s decision..... More delay, more cost to the public purse, more obfuscation and less information from the Nationalist Goverment which must be setting a record as the least transparent administration ever to sit in Holyrood.The Nationalist refusal to be open with the Scottish people is even more striking in this case as the UK Government has released its own legal advice. It says that the legal advice it received was that Scotland is only part of the EU by virtue of the UK's membership and could not automatically assume membership of the EU. There are other conditions including adopting the Euro as the currency of the new member state. This last is a real headache for the Nats as they gave up their attachment to the Euro due to the current problems of the Euro-zone and switched back to being in the “pound zone”*. In their defence Nationalists quote Westminster convention that legal advice is never disclosed – as if the SNP has ever taken a minutes notice of “Westminster convention”! And if the UK Government can release its legal advice, why can the Nationalists not release theirs?
The strong suspicion is that the Nationalists have never sought any legal advice on the position vis-a-vis the EU post referendum. Which would be very strange of a party which has been in existence for nearly 80 years and has only one real defining policy – that of “independence” from the UK. Especially in light of the Nationalist policy of “independence in Europe”, it is beyond belief that they would not seek legal clarification on such an important issue.
The other suspicion is that the Nationalists did seek legal guidance and the advice they received is at odds with their stated policy and that there would be significant obstacles to immediate EU membership for an “independent” Scotland.
Either way it is absolutely ridiculous that a Nationalist party which has long standing policy positions on Europe and the Euro has not sought any legal advice on the viability of that policy. To use public money to keep this information from Scottish voters is verging on maladministration.
* incidentally they never asked the Bank of England if this was a possibility – are we seeing a pattern here?