While the Tory Government has rightly been exposed for an unprecedented level of sleaze and corruption, the SNP’s record in government on transparency is hardly one to boast about.
This briefing provides a series of examples of where the SNP have fallen well short of the levels of transparency and proper behaviour that the public have the right to expect from those in office.
Freedom of Information Requests
The SNP government has repeatedly obstructed Freedom of Information requests, and engaged in activity far outside of the scope of the legislation in attempting to prevent information being released.
In 2018, a report from the Scottish Information Commissioner found that the Scottish Government treated FOIs from journalists and politicians differently from other groups, in breach of transparency legislation.
The report found that requests from journalists were more likely to be late as an additional layer of scrutiny was added, with special advisors and even ministers themselves intervening in responses to requests. This is the kind of behaviour the UK Government has rightly been damned for.
In the early stages of the pandemic, the Scottish Health Secretary even attempted to have Freedom of Information requests suspended. Had this gone through, several key revelations about government failures would not have been made during the pandemic.
Care Home Deaths FOI
It was shockingly revealed earlier this year that an SNP cabinet minister directly intervened to prevent the publication of statistics on care home deaths before the Holyrood elections.
A Freedom of Information Request from The Scotsman newspaper asked for a breakdown of care home deaths by each individual care home.
National Records Scotland initially rejected the request, but an appeal through the Scottish Information Commissioner meant the figures were going to be released on 10 February 2021.
However, SNP Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop directly intervened, making it clear she wanted to ‘seek routes to prevent publication’ of the information. At the time, Nicola Sturgeon claimed the process that led to the delay was independent of ministers.
In a subsequent investigation, the Scottish Information Commissioner found the National Records of Scotland had acted unlawfully, but ultimately SNP ministers were successful in preventing the information being revealed before the election.
Alex Salmond case
Throughout the allegations against Alex Salmond and the subsequent investigation into the Scottish Government’s handling of the allegations, the SNP government has obstructed and hidden details from the public.
In September 2020, the chair of the Alex Salmond a committee, an SNP MSP, said that the committee had been ‘completely frustrated’ by the lack of evidence being handed over’.
In particular, key legal advice received by the Scottish Government was held from the committee for several months, even after votes in the Scottish Parliament demanding its release.
The information was only released after Nicola Sturgeon appeared before the committee, and even then had substantial elements of it redacted.
The First Minister’s husband and chief executive of the SNP, Peter Murrell repeatedly changed his story in front of the committee, claiming to have been unaware of a meeting which happened in his own personal home.
£600k party funds
The SNP had previously raised £600,000 from its own members and donors, which it pledged would be ‘ring-fenced’ for a future independence referendum campaign.
However, after members of the SNP’s own National Executive raised concerns that the funds were no longer accounted for, a police probe was launched into the matter.
The probe remains ongoing, with scant detail about the investigation or any timescale for its completion.
The SNP deputy leader, Keith Brown, produced an internal report into the matter, which was leaked to a Scottish newspaper, in which it was revealed the £600,000 had been spent.
In 2017, SNP Rural Economy Secretary had a secret, unminuted dinner with Lex Greensill and steel billionaire Sanjeev Gupta.
The ministerial code states that an official should be present for all discussions relating to governments business and that basic facts of formal meetings are to be recorded.
No correspondence is available a month either side of the mystery meeting, and no official was present.
More recently, the Financial Times has won a two year battle with the Scottish Government for the publication of the total cost of the guarantee it provided to Sanjeev Gupta’s business, which amounted to £586M.
The Scottish Government had consistently attempted to prevent the Financial Times from gaining the information through Freedom of Information requests, but were eventually overruled by the Scottish Information Commissioner.
Ignoring votes in Parliament
The SNP government has on multiple occasions ignored the express will of the Scottish Parliament when it has voted for the release of documents, when it has demanded publication of other matters, or indeed when it has voted for the government to pursue certain policies including:
- A vote which demanded SNP ministers reviewed the planned closures of maternity wards and A&E departments
- Legal advice in the Alex Salmond case was only published after Deputy First Minister John Swinney faced a vote no confidence. Previously, Parliament voted twice demanding the release of the legal advice but had been ignored.
- Parliament voted to ban fracking, which the Scottish Government ignored. It later introduced a moratorium on fracking, but this falls short of a ban.
Improper behaviour of MPs/MSPs
There are dozens of cases of improper behaviour by SNP MPs, including drunken behaviour on official delegations in recent weeks.
Just some of the examples include:
- Then Finance Secretary Derek Mackay was found to have sent sexually inappropriate messages to a sixteen year old boy, with his parents accusing the minister of grooming him after he sent more than 270 unwanted messages to the boy. Mackay resigned from the Scottish Government following the allegations but remained as an MSP up until the election.
- Mark McDonald, former SNP childcare minister, resigned from his post after he was revealed to have sent sexually inappropriate messages to several civil servants.
- The SNP’s now Health Secretary but then Transport Secretary was stopped by the police for driving a car without insurance.
- Bullying of civil servants from several SNP ministers including Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop who was said to have subjected civil servants to “intimidation, harassment, lies and gossiping”.
- In fact, the Scottish Government has had more complaints made against it from civil servants accusing ministers of bullying than all UK Government departments put together.
- SNP MP Chris Law bought an 11.5 acre estate castle in 2016 and said at the time he would be transforming it into a centre for children with disabilities. Several years later, he instead lives in the castle with his wife and has never fulfilled his promise to open a centre for children.
- Former SNP MP Natalie McGarry is on trial for allegedly embezzling more than £25,000 from Scottish independence campaign organisations including ‘Women for Independence’. She denies the charges.
- Michelle Thomson, a former SNP MP and now MSP, was accused of mortgage fraud, although the case was ultimately dropped before trial.