Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has survived a vote of no confidence at Holyrood after being accused of ‘obstruction, secrecy and contempt’.
John Swinney had come under fire over delays from the Scottish Government in handing over legal documents to MSPs probing the botched handling of harassment allegations made against former first minister Alex Salmond.
The Tories, who brought forward the motion of no confidence, united with Labour and Liberal Democrats against the Deputy First Minister.
But the support of Scottish Green MSPs meant the challenge to him was ultimately unsuccessful, with Holyrood voting down the motion by 57 votes to 65.
Despite that, Mr Swinney still faced accusations from Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross of ‘having used his power to cover up evidence and protect Nicola Sturgeon’.
Nicola Sturgeon’s (right) deputy John Swinney (left) had come under fire over delays from the Scottish Government in handing over legal documents to MSPs probing the botched handling of harassment allegations made against former first minister Alex Salmond
Mr Salmond made a series of bombshell allegations as he gave evidence to a Holyrood committee last month
The Scottish Government only published some of the legal advice it was given in its courtroom battle against Mr Salmond after the Conservatives threatened to bring the vote of no confidence.
That was despite repeated pleas from MSPs on the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints to see the documents, and Holyrood twice voting for ministers to hand them over.
Those papers relate to the legal challenge brought by Mr Salmond, which saw the former first minister win a payout of more than £500,000 after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the Scottish Government had acted unlawfully.
With the committee still trying to access information, Mr Ross criticised the delays in releasing the documents – saying this had taken place ‘in outright defiance of two votes of the Scottish Parliament and repeated requests from a Holyrood committee’.
The Conservative added: ‘John Swinney has survived but honest John is no more. He has shamefully shut down the scrutiny that this inquiry was meant to provide.
‘Instead of considering the weight of evidence against John Swinney, the Greens have traded principles for an SNP budget deal. Patrick Harvie has been bought and sold for SNP gold.’
The Tories (pictured, leader Douglas Ross), who brought forward the motion of no confidence, united with Labour and Liberal Democrats against the Deputy First Minister
Labour deputy leader and committee member Jackie Baillie said the opposition had been left with ‘no choice’ but to bring the motion of Mr Swinney.
She said: ‘Supporting a motion of no confidence is never done lightly, but the abysmal failings of the Scottish Government and John Swinney on this matter left us with no choice.
‘Despite the promises from the First Minister, our nation’s Parliament and the committee have been treated with contempt.
‘You could paper the walls with the endless letters from the committee to John Swinney asking to see counsel’s advice – and at every turn the answer was no.
‘Time and time again, the government refused to publish legal advice and only did so when John Swinney’s job was on the line.
‘Even then, the information made available has been incomplete and released to a partisan schedule. The SNP really is the Secretive National Party.’
With the Deputy First Minister having recently said no minutes were available for meetings between lawyers and senior government figures, Ms Baillie continued: ‘Even now John Swinney denies the existence of evidence that the committee needs – this is shameful.’
She criticised the Greens, saying: ‘Once again, when the going gets tough the Scottish Greens ride to the rescue of the SNP, regardless of the catastrophic failings of the government.
‘I would have much rather they stood up for the Parliament instead.’
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: ‘I am sure many reasonable people will find it surprising that Patrick Harvie condones the behaviour of John Swinney.
Polls including this from Panelbase at the weekend have suggested that the Salmond row is damaging support for independence
‘It gives the SNP permission to disrespect the Parliament all day long. How can we get to the truth of how the government let women down if the committee is deprived of essential information?’
Mr Swinney, however, insisted the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems were playing politics.
Taking the unusual step of defending himself during the debate, the Deputy First Minister insisted: ‘On any fair interpretation of what the Government has done, the Tories’ pursuit of this motion today is now entirely baseless.
‘With an election only weeks away, the reality I suspect is that (the Tories) were always intent on pushing this motion to a vote, regardless of what action the Government had taken.’
Mr Swinney added the advice released to the public was embarrassing for the Scottish Government, and gave a ‘warts and all’ account of the state of the case against it.