By a Newsnet reporter
First Minister Alex Salmond has been cleared of breaching the Ministerial Code after a row over whether he had lied about seeking EU advice on the membership of an independent Scotland in the EU.
In a judgement released today, principal of Reading University, Sir David Bell cleared Mr Salmond after the First Minister referred himself for investigation following a complaint by Labour MEP Catherine Stihler.

Ms Stihler had accused Mr Salmond of misleading the public over the existence of legal advice.  The complaint followed the submission of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Labour MEP asking the Scottish Government to reveal whether it held specific legal advice on the issue of EU membership. 

Confirmation that no advice had been sought was eventually revealed by deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in a statement to the Holyrood Chamber in October last year. 

However the revelation led to claims that Mr Salmond had lied after a BBC interview from March showed the First Minister confirming he had sought advice “in terms of the debate”.

Speaking on the day Nicola Sturgeon made the statement, Scottish Labour MSP Paul Martin said: “It appears the First Minister is a liar and used taxpayers’ money to try to cover up his lies. When asked about whether he had sought legal advice on Scotland joining the EU he said he had.

“He even went to court to prevent that advice from being published and he told the Scottish Parliament that he couldn’t reveal it because the rules wouldn’t let him.

“Now Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that Alex Salmond never had any advice to keep secret in the first place. That means the Deputy First Minister has revealed the First Minister to be a liar.

“This government cannot be straight with the Scottish people. Alex Salmond has started the debate on Scotland’s future within the UK with barefaced lies that even embarrass his deputy.”

Better Together campaign chief Alistair Darling added: “This strikes at the heart of Alex Salmond’s credibility.  In March he said he had legal advice on this critically important issue, today his deputy has had to admit that no such advice has been received.

“It looks like Alex Salmond has embarked on a costly legal battle to conceal the fact that there never was any legal advice.”

In a blow to Unionists, the claims against the First Minister have been thrown out by Sir David, who in his judgement said: “I have not found you, or the Scottish Government, to have breached the Ministerial Code in respect of the complaints made by Ms Stihler.”

The First minister had asked the respected academic to carry out an independent inquiry due to a perceived conflict of interest had the Scottish government’s own Law Officers been involved.  Sir David was not referred to or confined to any part of the Ministerial Code.

Catherine Stihler had claimed the First Minister’s answer to a question from BBC interviewer Andrew Neil on March 3rd, in response to a question on EU advice, was false and that the subsequent refusal to answer her FoI request was an abuse of power.

In his response, Sir David recommended that the Ministerial Code be revised in parts pertaining to legal advice.  He also highlighted subsequent explanations by the FM following the row over the interview, describing them as “muddled and not always clear”. 

However he also acknowledged the interruptions from BBC presenter Andrew Neil had not helped instil clarity, and added:

“I am satisfied that you were trying genuinely to describe the underpinning process in the face of interruptions from Mr Neil, which it seems to me prompted you to talk about the conventions around legal advice.”

In a further blow to Mr Salmond’s opponents, Sir David also backed the Scottish government’s stance on the timing of its decision to specifically seek legal advice, which came after the historic Edinburgh Agreement.

He said: “I am also persuaded by your argument … that the Edinburgh Agreement was the appropriate moment to seek specific legal advice from the Law Officers.

“As you pointed out, it was only when the details of the referendum process became clear that you were in a position to seek such advice.”

Sir David also backed the Scottish government’s decision to challenge the ruling of the Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew, after she ruled in favour of Catherine Stihler’s FoI request.

He wrote: “In my view, the Scottish Government was acting consistently and within its rights when challenging the Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice.

“In doing so, it was upholding the principles of the confidentiality of legal advice in the [Ministerial] code.  There was nothing improper in that.”

Sir David also addressed the unspecified nature of the legal advice being sought by Catherine Stihler, and said that whilst he could not be certain that the Scottish government was justified in claiming to hold no information, he was satisfied that there was no suggestion that the government sought to mislead.

He did though say that it “stretched credulity” to say that “no information” was held.

SNP MSP Aileen McLeod called on opposition politicians to accept the outcome and end their run of baseless accusations and smears.  It is the sixth time that Mr Salmond has been cleared of breaking Ministerial rules after complaints by Unionist MSPs.

Commenting, Ms McLeod said:

“Sir David has investigated this matter thoroughly and concluded that the First Minister acted in accordance with the Ministerial Code.  As he points out, the conclusion of the Edinburgh Agreement provided the right context to obtain advice from law officers – which is exactly what the Scottish Government has done.

“Time and time again, opposition politicians – unable to do their own job properly – have resorted to baseless accusations and personal insults, rather than debate the substantive issues themselves.

“We have now had six referrals under the ministerial code – and in all six cases, the independent verdict has been that the First Minister and his Ministers acted in accordance with the code.

“There are so many pressing issues facing this country, and at the start of the New Year our opposition politicians should be resolving to offer a more positive and grown-up debate that the people of Scotland deserve.”

However, opposition MSPs remained unrepentant.  Labour MSP Paul Martin, who had called Mr Salmond a “bare faced liar” at the height of the row, said the First Minister should face a proper judge and jury.

He said people needed to be, “absolutely clear about this being an unfair process,” and added “we need to look forward and the Parliament needs to see a system in place where the First Minister is held to account by a proper judge and jury that is not appointed by the First Minister”

Mr Salmond today welcomed the findings: “I would like to thank Sir David for his very thorough and detailed report, the findings of which clearly demonstrate that there was no breach of the Ministerial Code on this matter.

“I welcome the report which demonstrates that I and the rest of the Scottish Government acted entirely in accordance with the Scottish Ministerial Code. I also welcome his conclusion that the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement was the appropriate moment at which to seek specific legal advice on an independent Scotland’s continued membership of the European Union.”


Chateaulait 57
2013-01-10 20:51

Can we now expect the No campaigners to start giving examples of why we are better together, or are they planning their next mud slinging offensive.

What am i thinking……..Of course it’s the latter.
2013-01-10 20:52

Sickening hypocrisy from the unionists. Call Kaye was a unionist love in today, with the usual crowd of naysayers. One caller claimed to be a 40 year veteran SNP voter & expected us to believe he’s finished. Within sight of his life long political goal and he’s gone off the SNP. Tripe, K never even questioned his credibility, just let him call Salmond a liar & dragged in Mary Scanlon to ‘prove’ why.

BBC- a unionist stakeholder and a disgrace to journalism.
2013-01-10 21:06

I can usually listen a programme out but this mornings Call Kaye went off when the nonsense started. She cut off Fergus Ewing while allowing the unionists to smear Alex Salmond and basically lie about him.
This programme was everything that is wrong with the BBC, unashamed bias and they couldn’t care less.
2013-01-10 21:27

Aye, one Unionist even complained Fergus talked over K.
What I heard was Fergus trying to finish his answer as K tried to cut him off.

2013-01-10 21:14

The way the media are reporting item’s is indeed getting worse, I spoke with a friend tonight and he informed me that Alex Salmond was going to put a pound on a bottle of whiskey, when i pointed out that this was not the case, he said why would they print it if it is not true. The scottish govermnent really need to start addressing this.
2013-01-11 16:46

Quite agree Fred. I also feel that it’s high time Alec stopped “gently reminding” all the opposition parties that they’ve got it wrong.

Time to get a bit tougher in his responses….

2013-01-10 21:19

I think that labour still does not understand that they lost the election 2011, and it is driving them up the wall.They are showing new heights in sulking, petulance and throwing tantrums, because they still can’t accept Scotland doesn’t need, want or require them.

Poor labour their empire has been kicked out from under them and they are too scared to take the step forward into a new future, where Scotland and its people will aim for heights they cannot even dream of.

Poor labour, sad labour, irevelent labour, not in power in Holyrood or Westminster and still dont realise the people of Scotland dont want their type of “Westminster-labour”. Bye bye labour, too twisted to grow up and reach the stars.
2013-01-10 21:38

I am not surprised at the outcome from the reference to Sir David Bell. However, this could have all been avoided by a straight clarification of the difference between legal advice and alegal opinion. I wish Alex had responded at the time but it just shows you how nasty these rebuttal teams are in the Unionist parties. The whole thing surfaced 6 months after the Neil interview. Lesson? People like Stephen Noon need to be on the ball to head-off these devious tactics by countering with more embarrassing stuff about the Unionists. That won’t be difficult. There is plenty of it.
2013-01-10 22:23


Just read the following article in the Independent, I am lost for words, or at least ones the Mods will allow.

Majority of Members of Parliament believe they are underpaid…/…

Members of Parliament believe they deserve a pay hike of one-third – with nearly 70 per cent believing that they are underpaid for the job they do.

Conservative members of Parliament on average would like a £31,000 increase in their basic salary – to £96,000 a year – while their Labour counterparts feel they deserve a £12,000 hike to £77,000, according to an anonymised survey carried out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa). MPs are currently paid around £65,000 a year.

2013-01-10 22:49

BBBC Scotland managed to end the piece on this with the poison of a “labour” quote ,saying something along the lines of “you can’t trust a word Alex Salmond says”

I really am very sick of these manipulating ,spinning “impartial” broadcasts .
Early Ball
2013-01-10 23:10

I wonder if Darling vetoed Bernard Ponsonby as the interviewer on STV.
He had an easy ride with John Mackay.
2013-01-11 01:42

To answer ‘the points’ made today by Mr Darling:
England will no more stop buying Scottish goods than they will, say, stop buying Baileys from Ireland or wine from France. To suggest otherwise is anti-English racism.
Scotland will have more influence in the World and not just with increased representation at the EU or at the UN either.
‘Proud to be Scots’ is no argument for continued colonial status. Pride and/or shame in historical British identity will not be removed by independence. Scots will still be British in the future the same way Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland are Scandinavian i.e. somewhat more so than numerous countries in the Americas are Latino/Hispanic, Ugandans, Kenyans et al are African, Jamaicans, Bermudans et al are Carribeans.
Breaking news – multiple identities are ALLOWED, England is not the arbiter of who can be British and who cannot, historically they actually have very poor provenance for even attempting to do so.
2013-01-11 09:36

John MacKay was on twitter yesterday evening complaining that people who pointed out STV’s lack of fairness were “bias bores”.

Will C
2013-01-10 23:49

Just listened to Darling on Scotland Tonight and Newsnight Scotland. John McKay was as usual, too nice, but Darling seemed a tad uncomfortable when asked about the “risks” of staying in the Union. Gordon Brewer was a bit more forensic, but not his usual agressive self, yet it was a car crash of an interview by Darling. In summary, if he is the best the ‘Bitter Together’ mob have, we already have a YES vote. Salmond, Sturgeon, Angus Robertson, etc. will destroy him in open debate. I am even more confident that we will win and look forward to the live debates with increasing anticipation..
2013-01-11 08:34

Although Brewer wasn’t agressive, Darling himself appeared to be very agressive!


2013-01-11 01:06


BBC two-faced – surely some mistake:…/
2013-01-11 06:32

Hi there,

I think Alex played the opposition like a salmon. They got the wrong end of the stick right at the very beginning and Alex just played them along. Is it his fault that they hear what they want to hear no matter what he says?

6 inquiries, and they still don’t get it.

Vote YES.

2013-01-11 08:44

Nice BBC love – in last night within the Newsnight Scotland team and the leader of the ‘No’ campaign. Surprised that Curtice didn’t make it?
2013-01-11 09:17

I agree with the above comments relating to the body language and dry-mouthed babbling and fluffed lines of Mr Aflipair Darling during his ineffectual interviews last night. Never mind the content – still nothing of substance – his non-verbal language indicated a distinct discomfort and confusion. Even when handed an open opportunity from banal questioning, he baulked. He could not make it more clear that he is a man of little substance. Has his ‘listening’ tour enabled him to hear a few truths about Independence.
2013-01-11 09:21

On Scotland Tonight Darling had the nerve to accuse The SNP and The Yes Campaign of ‘Playing The Man And Not The Ball’.

As an example of monstrous hypocrisy that will take some beating.
2013-01-11 09:57

I have to say, that I am utterly fed up with the “Unionist” conspiracy, repeatedly targeting Alex Salmond.
Is it not high time that some of the Labour MSP’s were held to book for the lies and distortions they use with impunity.
How about getting something solid on them, for breaking the Ministerial Code.
Labour have worked against the interests of Scotland so many times for their own UK ambitions, it is time embarrassment is heaped on them for a change.
They really make me ashamed of them. I hope Labour supporters are just as ashamed of them.!
2013-01-11 10:54

For once I actually saw the program as it happened. Nothing new, same old contradictions, Independence is irreversible, but if we keep the pound, we’ll drift back to wanting the Union back…SNP won’t commit on details of how an Independent Scotland would look…

Well, INDEPENDENT is the blindingly obvious distinction, and as such, at liberty to alter our adopted currency, & negotiate our own treaties and affiliations. Why let ourselves be preoccupied with issues which can change later anyway?

Be crystal clear. The YES vote in the referendum on Independence will only settle the question of Independence. It’s not about the government we choose, but who chooses our government.

Independence is not conditional upon our choice of currency, EU membership, defence, or our strategic alliances. Independence is the difference between Scotland making those decisions in our own best interests rather than Westminster making them in theirs.
2013-01-11 11:01

Totally agree, Clarinda,

I watched the not particularly ‘aggressive’ Brewer interview on Newsnicht last night.
Thought for a minute the sound was not synchronised with the picture.

Darling appeared like the rabbit in the headlights. Dazed, blinking, incoherent, babbling.

Wow! And he was a Chancellor of the Exchequer!

Can we have a reprise?
2013-01-11 11:34

A lot of folk on here keep asking the NO campaign to point out the benefits of union.Well,the fact is the unionists frequently do point out the benefits of union.Mr Cameron spelled them out clearly not so long ago.I’ll spell it out again for you all.
Benefits of Union
As a Scot and a Brit you can walk taller.You can afford nuclear bombs which let you be more important.
A lot of folks consider that to be a disadvantage…infact a disgrace rather than a benefit.Sheer British Nationalism.But its all theyve got
2013-01-11 11:40

Leswil, I agree with your point about the unionists continually targeting Alex Salmond. In my opinion this is because they fear his intellect and political standing compared to their own, so they are trying desperately to belittle him and diminish him in the eyes of the voters.

On the other hand, if you watched FMQs yesterday, you will have witnessed, as I did, Lamont switching her “shoot the messenger and ignore the message” attack onto Nicola Sturgeon. She used all of her “questions” to deliver anti-Sturgeon diatribes. Surely this sour, bitter person must be an embarrassment to any thinking Labour supporter?
2013-01-11 21:17


I believe lamonts attack on Nicola Sturgeon shows the labour leadership are worried about how well Nicola is being precevied by the general public just now. So they resort to their familier tactic ‘going for the man’ instead of the ball. They are pathitic bunch and I am sure Nicola will sort them out at the right time.

Alba Gu Brath.

2013-01-11 11:51

“In a blow to Unionists,….”

I’m afraid it’s also a blow to nationalists who have always been able to boast of the integrity of their leaders.

As a lifelong supporter of Independence and of Alex Salmond I don’t see this as Alex’ finest hour.

Without question our leaders are spotless compared to the unionists but this episode along with some of the utterance made by Mike Russell have, quite frankly, let the side down by leaving us open to attack on the grounds of dishonesty.

So let’s quit the ‘fancy footwork’ and stick to the facts, even if they allow the unionists to jump up and down.

History has shown us that lies, evasion and or cover-up are always more harshly dealt with by voters that the truth.

VOTE YES Next Year
2013-01-11 14:58

If you think that, you need to read the report, because Salmond was exonerated. It even points to the fact that he was having to answer the question and attempt to explain the answer in the face of interruptions from Andrew Neil.

2013-01-11 12:00

after these new welfare reforms,at least 20 of my neighbours have now left the labour party this week and are now going to vote yes , as they have had enough and can take no more of london dictating to us. they have all came to the conclusion that if scotland did vote no then during the next general elections who is going to stop us getting a government that we as a nation did not vote for, to everyone who is on this site if they want the full mcrone report please find it on this site. orts.html and download and print as i have already done it is approximately 12 pages long
2013-01-11 13:27

Why has Newsnet Not published the excellent letter Irvine Welsh wrote in Bella Caledonia? It is an excellent letter on why we should become an independent country. The Herald has mentioned this article with their own spin on it.
Bob Kingdom of Fife
2013-01-11 13:56

I think this political spat between the SNP and ‘ slab ‘ is hilarious and bringing in the biased msn media on what , the opposition demanded to know through ( freedom of information ) resulted in them receiving a blank piece of paper and now The First Minister is cleared of any irregularities concerning legal advice on the ministerial code,when will ‘ slab ‘ become a proper opposition party at Holyrood,and not just be following an agenda from their hq, in england.
2013-01-11 14:23

Hi Bob.
My Suggested answer is –
Get in the queue to ask the Oracle at Delphi!
See here:

Note that the answer may seem ambiguous but no more obscure than Darling’s responses on last evening’s Newsnicht.
2013-01-11 14:34

Last night’s ‘Reporting Scotland’ bulletins carried the ‘Salmond Cleared’ story but they couldn’t resist the opportunity to repeat the Slab calumnies against the First Minister quoting their spokeperson’s allegations that ‘you still can’t believe a word that Salmond utters’.

BBC Scotland is beyond contempt.

As an aside they even suggested in another item that Hamish McInnes, the mountaineer, was deceased while, as far as I know, he is very much alive and kicking – poor editorial standards across the board.
2013-01-11 16:08

By the time it got to Newsnicht, Salmond’s clearing by the Standards commissioner was relegated to the last ten seconds of the programme such was the time given to the ‘Great British Hero’ – indeed I think Brewer was halfway doon the corridor by the time he finished the sentence…..

It probably won’t get mentioned again for a while, or until the next fabrication or trap is set

2013-01-12 01:14

As usual Labour MSP Paul Martin manages to look like a whingeing crybaby. Why can’t these politicians learn to behave with a certain good grace when they lose?

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