Alex Salmond was at the centre of a fresh row last night over misleading MSPs and accusations of attempting to cover it up by “doctoring” official records at Holyrood.
The SNP leader is facing claims he has undermined the “integrity of parliament” after inflating the number of “green” jobs in Scotland in response to opposition pressure over wind farms.
He told MSPs in Holyrood on 25 October there were 18,000 jobs created by industries such as wind farms and hydro power, when there are only 11,000.
The SNP government is also facing claims of concealing the mistake after it emerged that the official record in parliament had been changed without MSPs being publicly notified.
The incident places fresh pressure on the First Minister’s battered reputation, after a string of episodes in recent weeks where MSPs claim they were mislead. Mr Salmond was forced to apologise last week for telling MSPs that college funding was increasing in Scotland, when it is falling.
Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said of the latest controversy: “This is an outrageous attempt by Alex Salmond to rewrite history. He has shamed his office, diminished this parliament and ridden roughshod over the public’s trust.”
E-mails released yesterday show that the First Minister’s office knew about the mistaken jobs figures last Thursday and made a request for this to be changed. But rigid rules exist for making such changes to the Holyrood record, and Mr Salmond’s office was told it must be done through an official application form. The record was only changed yesterday – after the mistake came into the public spotlight.
Holyrood guidance advises that MSPs who make such mistakes should take other steps, including “writing to the member who raised the matter” and “informing other members of their correction”, neither of which has been done on this occasion.
A Scottish Parliament spokesman said the formal procedure for making corrections to the Official Report (OR) was set out by Holyrood’s standards, procedures and public appointments committee in 2010.
“Corrections which meet the criteria are published both in the OR and on the parliament’s website, with an audit trail highlighting what change has been made,” he added.
“There’s a good chance that a point of order will come up just before decision time on this – if it does, the Presiding Officer will respond from the chair.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The First Minister has corrected the parliament’s official report to make it clear there are 11,000 jobs supported by Scotland’s renewable energy sector.”
Opposition parties say it further undermines the trust in the First Minister. He has also been on the back foot after appearing to say in a recent TV interview that the Scottish Government had sought legal advice on Scotland’s EU membership after independence, before it emerged that no such advice existed.
Conservative MSP Liz Smith, who asked the question on wind farms which has prompted the latest row, now wants to see Mr Salmond make a statement at Holyrood.
“This calls into question the integrity of parliament” she said last night.
It is not the first row over misleading MSPs Mr Salmond has faced. In April, he was accused of concealing the fact that energy firm Doosan had pulled out of a £170 million investment in offshore research in Scotland, while a year ago he was also forced to apologise to parliament for misleading MSPs over the position of leading academic Dr Matt Qvortrup on the independence referendum.
Labour MSP Richard Baker said the latest episode shows that the First Minister “lies instinctively”.
He added: “When asked about the number of jobs in renewable energy, he tells the people of Scotland 18,000, but that’s simply not true.
“He doesn’t even apologise, he just gets the Tipp-Ex out and changes the official record.” But a spokesperson for the First Minister dismissed Mr Baker’s claims.
“This is pathetic from Labour, and their daily contributions to political debate in Scotland are descending into total and utter absurdity,” he said.
“The First Minister was making the point that the renewable energy sector in Scotland is supporting many thousands of jobs, and the parliament’s official record has now been updated to reflect the correct current number of jobs.
“Mr Baker is guilty of gross hypocrisy in any case, given his track record of making statements which fall apart at the slightest scrutiny.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said that the SNP government is “increasingly showing its incompetence”.
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