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Scotland: Figures reveal SNP spent £20,000 keeping legal advice quiet

Figures released by the Scottish National Party have revealed that they spent £20,000 trying to fight a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed the true nature of legal advice received over their plans for Scottish independence.

The SNP has long campaigned for an independent Scotland and when their leader Alex Salmond won a majority of votes at the last general election to make him Scotland's first minister, the proposal moved tangibly closer.

Salmond campaigned for a mandate for a referendum on Scottish independence, which would be the first step towards making his dream a reality.

However, as the prospect of a decision on Scottish independence loomed, the realities of such a move were considered and made for uncomfortable reading.

The SNP had sought legal advice on whether or not an independent Scotland would automatically accede to membership of the European Union. A crucial point, given that failure to do so would place a newly independent Scotland years away from EU membership.

However, the very existence of such legal advice became hotly disputed, with the SNP denying such advice existed, whilst desperately fighting FoI requests to disclose any legal advice received.

In the end, the SNP admitted that no specific advice existed and therefore they would stop their legal battle against the FoI request.

The fight was damaging because Mr Salmond had previously stated that an independent Scotland would automatically accede to the European Union, whereas the considered opinion of most EU law experts is that it would not.

The Telegraph reports that the cost of that fight against the Freedom of Information Act request was a princely £19,452.92 of taxpayers' money spent on legal advice and fees.

The Freedom of Information Act request was tabled in 2011 by Labour MEP Catherine Stihler, to ask Scottish ministers exactly what legal advice had been sought over Scottish independence.

A senior Conservative MSP said that the SNP's failure to disclose important information could result in further costly litigation.

"If they fail to tell voters what their legal basis is for an independent Scotland being part of the EU, it could result in yet another expensive court case," said John Lamont, the Scottish Conservative Chief Whip.