The more important the issue, the more important it is that ministers are open and honest with the public. And there are few more important issues than the handling of the Covid pandemic.
The revelation that an intervention by a Scottish government minister led to a delay of the publication of figures showing how many people died from Covid-19 in individual care homes until after May’s Scottish Parliament election is a worrying sign of a lack of commitment to democratic ideals about openness and transparency.
The information was due to be released in February by the National Records of Scotland, which officially records deaths in Scotland and is one of the few sources of accurate information about the scale of Covid’s impact on the care sector.
But after the then Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop got involved, the figures were only released in May following a ruling by the Scottish Information Commissioner that refusing to publish them was unlawful.
Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie rightly described this intervention as “unacceptable”, adding that “time and time again we have seen a culture of secrecy grip this government… they have an obsession with hiding the truth from the people of Scotland”. “This is why we need work to begin now on a Scottish public inquiry – so we can get to the bottom of this scandal and not be subjected to more attempted cover-ups by the SNP,” she added.
The best way for Nicola Sturgeon's government to respond to this criticism and demonstrate it does not want to “hide the truth” would be to swiftly establish an independent public inquiry, so that lessons can be learned about the best ways to deal with any future pandemics and so that voters can make their own judgement about how well the current one was and is being handled.
The worst way would be to dismiss it as mere party politicking and carry on trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes.