Local Liberal Democrats condemn “secretive SNP”

30 Nov 2023

Rutherglen & Hamilton West Liberal Democrats have claimed the SNP Government “is wedded to secrecy” after Scottish ministers announced that they won’t introduce any primary legislation to update information rights before the end of the current Parliament in 2026 and kicked other reforms into the long grass.

In its response to a consultation on the future of Freedom of Information legislation, the Scottish Government:

  • Refuses fresh legislation to cover the use of WhatsApp, preferring guidance, despite the deletion of Covid WhatsApps and a Scottish Liberal Democrat investigation finding WhatsApps have only been released under FOI on two occasions.
  • Refuses to give the Parliament more powers to determine who is subject to FOI, as requested by the Scottish Information Commissioner.
  • Refuses to match Irish FOI legislation which clamps down on confidentiality clauses between public bodies and their contractors.

South Lanarkshire Council Liberal Democrat Group leader Robert Brown is a longstanding campaigner for strong freedom of information rights. He said that the public’s right to demand information from Government and public bodies was a bulwark of democracy and individual freedom. He condemned what he called the “secretive SNP” for a catalogue of failure and backsliding on rights to information.

Robert Brown said:

“Scottish Liberal Democrats introduced ground breaking and radical freedom of information 23 years ago. Since the SNP came to power in 2007, they have wriggled and twisted to dodge scrutiny and now they have stopped meaningful reform dead in its tracks. We have had a variety of consultations and the promise of further consultations is a further SNP dodge to kick freedom of information reform into the long grass.

The SNP government have been in power too long and have got into a habit of trying to evade scrutiny.

This really matters after we have seen WhatsApp messages deleted, the collapsed Deposit Return Scheme exempted from FoI and the pretext of confidentiality used to prevent release of information about the SNP’s ferries fiasco.

Liberal Democrats want urgent reform to help fix our broken politics – a widening of public rights to information, an end to the SNP culture of secrecy, a new duty to record to end the practice of unminuted meetings, and ensure Scotland keeps pace with international best practice by joining the Tromso Convention.”

 

Notes to editors:

The Scottish Government publication can be found here.

Previous Scottish Liberal Democrat analysis of Scottish Government freedom of information releases reveals that discussions of government business among ministers and civil servants on WhatsApp appear to have only been disclosed on two occasions: a single message between two civil servants and conversations in which a minister discusses briefings and diaries and requests staff bring her gnocchi.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have called for:

  • Freedom of information laws to be expanded to cover companies which provide government services, after firms receiving up to £700m of taxpayers’ money a year to run services have been exempt
  • The introduction of a new “duty to record” so that the public can always access information about important ministerial meetings and decision-making processes.
  • An end to the Scottish Government placing adverse publicity clauses in public sector contracts, which prevent contactors from saying anything a minister deems detrimental to the public perception of the Scottish Government
  • The Scottish Government to commit to international best practice by signing up to the Council of Europe’s Tromso Convention which provides a general right of access to official documents held by public authorities.