Profs claim ‘ambush’ at Holyrood committee

Labour leader Wendy Alexander

Labour leader Wendy Alexander

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A PROFESSOR at St Andrews University has complained to the Scottish Parliament about the treatment he received while speaking at a Holyrood committee meeting.

Andrew Hughes Hallett has written to the parliament’s presiding officer to complain about the line of questioning some MSPs took when he appeared before the Scotland Bill committee on January 11.

In a letter to a Scottish daily newspaper this week, Professor Hallett and Professor Drew Scott, who also gave evidence at the same time, claim that they were the victims of an “ambush” when they were quizzed on another matter which, they say, is unrelated to the Scotland Bill.

The academics were asked a series of questions about a paper they wrote on fiscal autonomy in January 2009.

Both men say they were unprepared for the grilling which they believe has damaged their reputations.

Their paper on fiscal autonomy has proved controversial as it has since been used to further the case for Scottish independence.

Both men say they had expected to be questioned on the 15 pages of evidence they had submitted in relation to the Scotland Bill committee which is scrutinising planned new powers for Holyrood.

They said in their letter: “As far as we can recall, at no time was that carefully-prepared submission specifically referred to by committee members, although we do know they had received it.

‘‘In light of this, and remarks made by certain members of the committee, it is very difficult to avoid concluding that we were victims of some type of pre-arranged “ambush” in the Scotland Bill Committee, the purpose of which seemed to be to discredit what have since become politically contentious aspects of our earlier research on fiscal autonomy.

reputation

“We consider that these events not only undermine both the reputation of the Scottish Parliament and the willingness of others to appear before its committees to offer expert advice, they have prevented committee members from discussing with us our concerns about the adverse consequences the implementation of this Bill could have for Scotland.”

The committee is convened by former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander, and its membership includes Tory David McLetchie.

At one point in the proceedings, Professor Scott said “we should simply leave if all we are going to do is discuss fiscal autonomy, because that is not what we spent the last two weeks working on. We spent the last two weeks working on the Scotland Bill.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats constitutional affairs spokesman, Robert Brown MSP, said he found it “absolutely astounding” that both men thought they should only be questioned on evidence of their own choosing.

He claimed the questions asked of both academics had been relevant to the Scotland Bill and their evidence to the committee had “done an important service to the debate.”