Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Battle of Culloden

The First Minister's love of golf has generated some bad headlines recently involving the Ryder Cup.
Now there's more anger over the use of public money for a costly stay at the Scottish Open, where the FM held court with overseas investors.

Here's a guest post from @paulhutcheon of the Sunday Herald.

By Paul Hutcheon

ALEX Salmond has been criticised after the taxpayer funded a five-night stay in a luxury hotel to help him attend a golf tournament beside Inverness.

The SNP Government has confirmed putting up the First Minister at the famous Culloden House as the Scottish Open was being staged nearby.

Officials are refusing to put a figure on the accommodation costs, or say whether the First Minister’s wife also stayed in a hotel that has hosted Elton John and actor Hugh Grant.

Culloden House: Not your average B&B
It was revealed last year that the First Minister-led delegation to September’s Ryder Cup cost around £470,000, a sum described by Labour as “eye watering”.
Two months before the Ryder Cup, the public purse was also used to help Mr Salmond visit another high-profile golf event.
The 2012 Scottish Open was held at the Castle Stuart course overlooking the Moray Firth between the 12th and 15th of July.
According to the First Minister’s log of chauffeur-driven car journeys, which is available on the Government website, the SNP leader arrived at Culloden House, a twelve minute drive from the course, on July 10th.
Alex Salmond take part in the pro-am on 11 July 2012
A car took Mr Salmond from the hotel to Castle Stuart on the 11th July, where he took part in the “pro-am” event, a journey that was repeated for the next three days.
The logs also show that the First Minister was taken from the course back to Culloden House on the days between the 11th and 14th of July.
However, questions are now being asked about the appropriateness of the taxyaper funding such of lavish accommodation.
Mr Salmond’s home, in Strichen, is a two hour drive from Castle Stuart.
Culloden House was where Bonnie Prince Charlie had his lodgings before the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
In 2011, readers of Conde Naste Traveller named Culloden as their “favourite hotel” in the British Isles.
Set over 40 acres, a “superior” double room costs £320, while a suite is priced at £395 a night.
A spokesperson for the First Minister confirmed the Government paid for him to stay at Culloden House, but pointed out that Mr Salmond had carried out six ministerial engagements in the Inverness area during the period.
Three of these meetings - with Mitsubishi, Seawind and Daktari - took place at the golf club.
Asked whether the First Minister’s wife also stayed overnight at Culloden House, the spokesperson said this question would be considered under freedom of information legislation.
The Government also declined to answer questions about costs.

Salmond in the rough 11-7-12
Patricia Ferguson, Scottish Labour’s sport spokesperson, said: “At a time when families all over the country are tightening their belts because of the financial crisis, the idea that the First Minister of Scotland is charging them so he can enjoy the best part of a week at the golf is unbelievable.
“When the First Minister isn’t using his office to run a full-time referendum campaign, it would appear he is using it to fund his lavish hobby as a golf fan. What he clearly isn’t doing is the job he was elected to do, which is protect the people of Scotland from the Tory cuts.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “We all know the First Minister enjoys his golf, but like everyone else he should be paying for his own accommodation, particularly when there are so many demands on public resources. If he and his SNP Ministers expect public sector workers to tighten their belts, they should lead by example.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The First Minister undertook Government business at Castle Stuart and nearby, including business meetings to discuss employment and investment - and we expect a major jobs announcement soon as a result of these talks. He stayed overnight ten minutes from Castle Stuart, rather than making a four-and-half-hour round trip each day.”

Saturday, 23 March 2013

EU said, she said

There's a new development in the row that refuses to die -  the argument over the SNP government and its protean legal advice on the status of an independent Scotland in Europe.
Nicola Sturgeon was supposed to have cleared up all the confusion in October, when she told MSPs that, despite the FM appearing to suggest otherwise, there was no such advice after all.
But fear not, she had now commissioned "specific advice" from the law officers.
Except the law officers didn't get the official paperwork for another two months.
The opposition parties are now asking how Sturgeon could have commissioned "specific advice" without posing specific questions, and think an apology and correction to the Official Report may be in order.

Here's a longer version of the story in today's Herald.

Tom Gordon

ALEX Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon are facing new claims they misled parliament over government legal advice on the status of an independent Scotland in Europe.

Both the First Minister and his deputy told MSPs in late October that ministers had commissioned “specific advice” from their law officers on the topic, ending months of speculation about whether such advice existed.

However the government has now confirmed that it was not until two months later, on December 18, that ministers actually submitted the formal request to their top legal advisers.

The two months was needed simply to draw up the questions to the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General to answer, suggesting significant gaps in ministers' knowledge on the issue.

Opposition parties are now querying how Sturgeon and Salmond could claim to have commissioned “specific advice” before any specific questions were posed, and have urged them to amend their statements in Holyrood’s official record.
Questions over the status and entry terms of an independent Scotland in the EU have bedevilled the SNP’s referendum campaign, with ministers forced into a series of retreats.
After insisting for years that entry would be “automatic” and Scotland would inherit the UK’s opt-outs on the euro and free travel, ministers now admit there would be detailed negotiations, including on the opt-outs and the UK rebate.
Many of the SNP’s problems track back to March last year, when Salmond was asked in a BBC interview if he had sought specific legal advice on EU membership from his law officers.
He said: “We have, yes, in terms of the debate.” 
But on October 23, Sturgeon told parliament that in fact no such advice had been sought.
However in light of the Edinburgh Agreement signed on October 15, in which the UK and Scottish governments agreed the referendum process, she said that situation had changed.
“I can confirm that the Scottish Government has now commissioned specific legal advice from our law officers on the position of Scotland within the European Union if independence is achieved through [the Edinburgh Agreement],” she said.
Two days later, Salmond also told MSPs: “We have sought the advice of the law officers”.
L: Nicola Sturgeon on 23-10-12, and R: Alex Salmond on 25-10-12
But after a Freedom of Information request in November to see the formal, lengthy request submitted to the law officers on such occasions, the government took four months to admit that it didn’t exist until December 18.
It was only then that junior lawyers within the government actually finalised the questions and passed them to the law officers.
Tory chief whip John Lamont MSP said: “Alex Salmond has already been caught red handed in revealing what legal advice the Scottish Government has on an independent Scotland’s position within the EU. Now, it seems his deputy has been less than straight on the same issue.
“Ms Sturgeon now has to think carefully on whether she misled Parliament, and if the official record should be changed accordingly.”

No problems here
Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson said: “Both the First Minister and his deputy clearly stated that legal advice had been commissioned and they need to urgently clarify the situation or face the accusation they misled parliament yet again.”
The Scottish Government said the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, had consented to Sturgeon’s form of words in parliament on October 23.
A spokesman said: “The Deputy First Minister commissioned specific legal advice on 23 October, which was accepted by the Lord Advocate and he gave permission for her to advise parliament that such legal advice had been commissioned. It is part of the normal process that Scottish Government lawyers then prepare a detailed submission.”