Scottish Government needs challenge, not SNP censorship – Brian Wilson

The Auditor General is one of the few points of challenge to the administration in Edinburgh.

Auditor General Stephen Boyle stuck to his guns

His office is non-political and every administration endures its strictures, like those of the National Audit Office.

An SNP mission has long been to close down points of challenge. The Holyrood committee system is a dud. Broadcasters are under constant pressure. Quangos are in the hands of trusties. “Creatives” know the trough does not favour dissent. And so on.

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So where is challenge to come from based on hard facts and analysis? The role of Auditor General is crucial and its independence deserves respect. Fat chance of that!

So material obtained by The Times under Freedom of Information should ring alarm bells, even where selective deafness is preferred. In advance of last year’s elections, ministers tried to censor a report about “closing the attainment gap” in education.

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Audit Scotland found “the poverty-related attainment gap remains wide… progress has been limited” and that this pre-dated the pandemic. The Auditor General came under intense pressure to say instead that progress was “significant”. It is shocking any attempt was made to doctor the report; far less reverse its headline conclusion.

The good news is that the Auditor General, Stephen Boyle, resisted and stuck with his team’s report. The bad news is that the same bullying goes on all the time, often with more success.

If we want an object lesson in how arrogant authoritarians seek to subvert the checks and balances of liberal democracy, we don’t have far to look.

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