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Scottish Labour unveils proposals to end culture of ‘secret Scotland’

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar revealed his proposals for greater transparency on Wednesday (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar revealed his proposals for greater transparency on Wednesday (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Anas Sarwar has pledged an overhaul to transparency and accountability in the Scottish Parliament in a bid to prevent what he branded a “culture of secrecy and cover-up”.

The Scottish Labour leader launched the second of a series of papers setting out Labour’s proposals to reform and renew the role Scottish politics plays in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

Mr Sarwar suggested that despite the expectation that both Holyrood and Westminster were intended to build public trust in politics, events over the years have instead let to “a spectre of sleaze”.

To tackle this, the party has put forward a number of recommendations to enhance scrutiny, strengthen committees, improve the effectiveness of parliamentary business and boost transparency through changes to Freedom of Information laws and the introduction of parliamentary privilege.

Scottish Parliament chamber
Scottish Labour is seeking to improve transparency and accountability in Holyrood (Andy Buchanan/PA)

It also proposed implementing rules to ensure MSPs elected into the Scottish Parliament regard that role as being a full-time one rather than lending time towards second jobs.

Mr Sarwar additionally called on Holyrood to strengthen its FOI legislation by extending it to all bodies that provide a public service and create a presumption in favour of proactive publication of public information.

Doing so will put an end to “secret Scotland”, he said.

“The people of Scotland deserve a Scottish Parliament that is open and transparent for all.

“However, when you have a Government which actively seeks to avoid scrutiny and backbenchers who suspend their responsibilities in the name of party interest, then the system needs to be reformed.

“Committees have been ignored, processes run roughshod over, and the responsibility to be truly accountable to Parliament, the press and the public has been ignored by SNP ministers.

“All the while, a spectre of sleaze has cast its shadow over Scottish politics.

“We can’t allow a culture of cover-up to weaken the faith of the people of Scotland in their Parliament.

“That’s why, today, I am outlining a series of reforms to end the SNP’s secret Scotland and strengthen Scottish democracy.

“This much-needed reform of freedom of information law is only the start of the fight back.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland already has the most open and far-reaching FOI legislation in the UK.

“In addition to responding to over 4,000 requests in the last year, the Scottish Government proactively publishes all responses, going beyond what is legally required of us and, in addition, we regularly publish a huge volume of information across all areas of policy and Government activity.

“All public bodies are already covered by freedom of information law and we are currently considering the extension of FOISA (the Freedom of Information Scotland Act) to additional organisations providing public services.

“Furthermore, we have plans already in place to consult later this year to gather views on how access to information rights can be further protected and strengthened in Scotland.”