Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon says SNP Government 'totally transparent' despite unlawfully withholding data

Nicola Sturgeon has said the Scottish Government has been “totally transparent” in relation to Covid-19 data, just days after it was revealed it unlawfully withheld modelling data for the second wave of the virus.

The First Minister, responding to a question from Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton at her weekly Covid-19 statement to Holyrood, defended her Government’s record on transparency.

On Saturday, The Scotsman revealed ministers had breached Freedom of Information legislation following a 16-month transparency battle with the paper.

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Information around predictions and modelling that informed the Scottish Government’s approach to the-then potential second wave of Covid-19 was kept secret by officials, arguing it was in the public interest to withhold the data to help policy development within the Government.

The front page of the January 15 Scotsman on Saturday

However, Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) Daren Fitzhenry said the strength of the public interest argument in favour of the information being made public was so strong, it should have been released when it was first requested in early September 2020.

In Holyrood, Mr Cole-Hamilton said the Government must “commit” to being more transparent around Covid-19 data and modelling in the future.

He said: “People need to trust that if further restrictions are required in the future that they will be based in transparency and in a science that they can see, which makes it concerning that the Information Commissioner ruled last week that the Government had acted unlawfully in withholding projections about a second wave.

"Can I ask the Scottish Government in light of the rebuke by the Information Commissioner if it will commit to moving forward with transparency going forward.”

Responding, Ms Sturgeon argued the Government was “totally transparent” despite the SIC ruling.

She said the Government would “respond appropriately”, adding: “The commissioner actually found the information withheld was of a type to which the exemption which covered development of government policy.

"It accepted that this information was intended to assist in developing policy in relation to a possible second wave, but took a different view in assessing the public interest issue.”

Several FOI exemptions, such as the one used by the Scottish Government to withhold the information, are subject to the ‘public interest test’.

It is this test that determines whether certain information that is subject to a qualified exemption should be released.

Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

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