“Bringing power to the people” and effecting transparency is much more that simply moving the geographical focus of a legislatures, such as from Westminster to Holyrood.
In contrast to pursuing attempts to impeach Tony Blair – on expenses, of course – Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government have been remarkably coy about revealing whether or not they sought legal advice on an independent Scotland joining the European Union. The reasoning of those who say it is far from certain is that the high negotiating power of the UK resides at Westminster and Whitehall; and that if any part of the UK cleaves, its application would be have to be viewed as any sovereign state applying for the first time.
Key EU members with secessionist movements, such as Spain and Belgium (or, at a pinch, France and Italy), would not be well-disposed to setting a precedent which their revolting regions may follow. So the argument goes, at least.
In face of this, it should be expected that advice from EU bodies has been sought. Even though “EU legal advisors” remain civil servants without executive power – in contrast to that which the SNP may like to imply when an assessment concurs with their aims – a positive assessment would be highly useful. So, why the reluctance to reveal even if advice were sought?
At about the time Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP group at Westminster was tabling FoI requests concerning the Westminster-led referendum consultation, Labour MEP for Scotland, Catherine Stihler was doing so on any advice sought on EU membership.
After delivering only a gnomic “we neither confirm nor deny that we sought advice”, the Scottish Government has been ordered to accede to Stihler’s request. And now has announced its intention to fight this at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
Elsewhere, Salmond is experiencing difficulties in distinguishing between himself and Scotland. After being told to get to Forfar by Donald Trump and fug-off by Mohammed al-Fayed, what previously might have appeared as cheeky irreverence is more and more looking like embarrassing political bloviation.
After being approved following public enquiry in 2009, the proposed Aberdeen bypass was put on ice by a challenge from RoadSense led by William Walton and a hearing opened at the UK Supreme Court at Westminster. The SNP have expressed their opposition to this innovation before: including the implication that an independent judiciary is not welcome, and accusations from the solicitor and Scottish Justice minister, Kenny MacAskill which dismissed the legal colossuses sitting on it as of little more worth than an Edinburgh Fringe event.
At the opening of this hearing in August 2011, this tendency toward somewhat truculent terms led Salmond to decry Walton as “flying in the face of public opinion” and risking becoming “one of the most disliked men in Scotland”.
The Aberdeen road system is antiquated and, assuming Donald Trump’s golf course is essential, a bypass to ensure ease of access also is essential. Yet, according to the Press and Journal on Tuesday this week (I cannot find anything online), Walton is arguing that such comments breached legislation which permits environmental campaigners be work without being penalized, persecuted or harassed by Government officials. That his case is being heard at Salmond’s hated Supreme Court will take some of sting out of it being based on his preferred EU law (article 3.8 of the Aarhus Convention, to be precise).