Freedom of Information 'under attack' by secretive SNP, says Anas Sarwar

The legacy of Freedom of Information is under attack by the SNP, the leader of Scottish Labour has said.

Anas Sarwar accused the Scottish Government of showing “blatant contempt” for the legislation, which was introduced when Labour was in power and provides access to information held by public authorities.

Mr Sarwar insisted there was a “corrosive culture of secrecy at the heart of the SNP”, posing an “existential threat” to transparent and open government in Scotland.

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Legal advice on Scottish independence referendum to be released after transparen...
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar. Picture: Andrew Milligan / PA

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It comes after The Scotsman revealed SNP ministers would be forced to publish legal advice relating to a second independence referendum.

The move follows a 13-month transparency battle with this paper.

Writing in The Scotsman, Mr Sarwar said: "I’ve spoken out recently about the corrosive culture of secrecy at the heart of the SNP and the existential threat this poses to transparent and open government in Scotland.

"Nowhere is this clearer than in the blatant contempt the SNP Government has shown towards FOI laws.”

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He added: “FOI responses are routinely late and redacted beyond recognition – and even more so if your email address happens to include the name of a newspaper or the word ‘Parliament’.

“They will delay, and obfuscate and play for time in the hope that people give up.”

Mr Sarwar has been an outspoken critic of the Scottish Government’s record on transparency.

He recently wrote to the new Permanent Secretary, John-Paul Marks, urging him to carry out a “comprehensive and unflinching investigation” into the issue.

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Following an FOI battle with The Scotsman, the Government has been given until June 10 to disclose parts of its legal advice around indyref2.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of pro-UK campaign group Scotland in Union, said: “This SNP administration is renowned for its secretive behaviour, so this is a vital ruling that must lead to some much-needed transparency from ministers.

“But the people of Scotland do not want a second referendum any time soon and the SNP Government should end its obsession with trying to divide us again.

“The last thing that Scotland needs as we recover from Covid and face a cost-of-living crisis is a legal battle over the constitution, which would cost millions of pounds and place a huge strain on civil servants.”

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A spokesman for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This is desperate stuff from Anas Sarwar.

"The reality is that the Scottish Government prioritises transparency – and that includes information released via Freedom of Information requests.

"Scotland has the most open and far-reaching FOI regime in the UK and we routinely publish information in response to FOI requests which goes further than that required of any UK Government department.”

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