OPENNESS and transparency were among the founding principles of the Scottish Parliament – yet Holyrood has been found wanting.
It emerged almost by accident that last month the First Minister misinformed MSPs about the number of jobs created by his renewable energy drive.
Mr Salmond insists it was an accidental slip which he subsequently corrected in the Parliament's Official Report, the verbatim account of proceedings in the chamber and in committee, or Holyrood's Hansard.
Loading article content
But that clandestine corrections procedure gives as much cause for the concern as the First Minister's somewhat shaky grasp, in recent weeks at least, of basic facts and figures. His office emailed parliamentary officials to correct the error on November 15, within the 20 workings days period of grace allowed to MSPs who realise they have erred. As it turns out, his officials failed to follow the correct procedure so the First Minister's figure exaggerating the jobs boost from green energy was only changed yesterday.
Even then it was only changed on the initiative of parliamentary staff who chased up the original, inadequate email. And they only did that after Mr Salmond was challenged on his figures by an eagle-eyed energy expert who was told, incorrectly, the Official Report had already been amended.
Corrections are recorded both on the Official Record and on Parliament's website but there is a strong chance those mechanisms, on their own, would have not have alerted anyone to the error.
In Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is only slightly more surreal than some of the goings on at Holyrood, the hapless hero complains that plans for the destruction of earth were displayed "in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying: 'Beware of the Leopard.'" That's rather how Parliament advertises corrections to the Official Report.
The present procedure, which was introduced in 2010, does not require Parliament to flag up corrections in its daily Business Bulletin which gives details of committee meetings, debates and motions. Nor does it place MSPs under any obligation to make their changes public. The guidelines state merely: "Members may also wish to inform other members of their correction, especially if the incorrect information was given in direct response to another contribution."
Mr Salmond chose not to do so on this occasion.
It transpires that six corrections have been made this year. In March Mr Salmond also exaggerated a rise in female employment. In September, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse exaggerated the effect of last year's cold winter in knocking efforts to tackle climate change off course. Small errors, perhaps, but such mistakes can be powerfully helpful in the cut and thrust of debate.
Holyrood's Standards and Procedures Committee should act to ensure corrections are highlighted and given due prominence as soon as they are made. Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick has not been afraid of reform, introducing topical question to hold ministers to account more quickly and promising better post-legislative scrutiny. Quiet corrections to the Official Report remain a loophole that needs to be closed.