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Education minister John Swinney’s unminuted meetings spark fears of secret government

© Jane Barlow/PA WireJohn Swinney.
John Swinney.

Education minister John Swinney is at the centre of a new transparency row over three unminuted meetings about an important review of what Scots pupils are taught.

No minutes were taken at the discussions Swinney held with the leading international organisation reviewing Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence.

The education ­minister admitted he held the private meetings with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) under questioning from the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

We told in February how the Scottish government had been handed interim findings but was insisting they must stay under wraps until after the election.

Days later MSPs passed a motion demanding Swinney release the draft report but he has yet to do so, saying it is for the OECD to publish its findings. Last month, he released a summary to MSPs on the condition it was not leaked but opposition politicians said it lacked any detail.

An OECD review of the Curriculum for Excellence in 2015 said one in 10 schools was “weak or unsatisfactory” and a fifth were rated only “satisfactory”.

Swinney has now told the Lib Dems he met the OECD three times since September 2019 to discuss the curriculum review but no minutes were taken at any of the meetings because there were no actions.

A series of meetings involving SNP ministers have been unminuted, raising concerns among campaigners for transparent government. The undiaried and unminuted meetings included a number of discussions involving Nicola Sturgeon that featured in the Alex Salmond affair this year.

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie wants ministers to agree to a new “duty to record” so the public can access accounts of important ministerial meetings and decision-making processes.

Rennie said: “It is astonishing John Swinney has blocked the public from seeing a single word that was said at three meetings he had with the OECD.

“This is the umpteenth time that no minutes have been taken of important meetings. The SNP prefers stitch-ups, secrecy and spin to any kind of accountability.”

Willie Sullivan, ­director of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said: “A route back to public trust means the workings of government being as transparent and open as possible.”

The Scottish government said meetings between the OECD Review Team and the co-ordination team were not routinely minuted as they focused on the practicalities of delivering the review.