HOLYROOD politicians need to remember one thing: we’re their boss, the Scottish people. We pay their wages, we own the buildings they work in and the seats they sit on and the telephones they use. They are accountable to us in every single thing they do in public office – every penny spent, every policy proposed, every meeting held.

Our governing class seems to have forgotten that. In April, the SNP used the passage of emergency coronavirus legislation to seriously undermine transparency, public scrutiny of government, and freedom of information (FoI).

However, thanks to opposition parties getting their act together such anti-democratic behaviour might be reined in by the end of today through legislative amendments in Parliament.

The laws allow public bodies to vastly extend the time they have to reply to freedom of information requests from citizens. Instead of 20 days, they could take 60 days – or even 100 days in certain circumstances. Add in time for reviews, and transparency campaigners fear that it might take 10 months in total, when it comes to some cases, to extract information from the government.

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At a time of national crisis, the prompt relaying of free and open information from the government to the people is a matter of life and death. Only the dangerously reckless would think it acceptable that governments should come under less scrutiny at such a time.

We’re in the middle of a crisis of mass deaths in care homes, the failure of testing and tracing, the scandal over the lack of protective gear for NHS staff, and concerns about a possible cover up in relation to the early outbreak of coronavirus in Edinburgh.

Allowing a government to sit on information, for months, which could quite literally save lives is an unacceptable gamble with the health of fellow citizens.

Westminster has not enacted such changes. The SNP has form on being a little slip-shod to say the least when it comes to respecting freedom of information legislation. In 2017, the Scottish Information Commissioner criticised the government for delays. The issue was debated in Holyrood and there was an investigation into the government’s performance.

In what should be a badge of shame for the SNP, the Index on Censorship named Scotland alongside Brazil in a report on the erosion of FoI globally during coronavirus.

Brazil is run by Jair Bolsonaro – a man who makes Trump look sane. His government no longer has to answer FoI requests within the usual deadlines.

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The Index on Censorship said that FoI delays by governments around the world “allow politicians and public bodies to sweep information that should be freely available and subject to wider scrutiny under the carpet of coronavirus. News that is three months old is, very often, no longer news”.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland said the new laws would have “draconian and far reaching implications on the exercise of FoI rights, just when people really need to hold public bodies to account for decisions made”.

One country which is now the poster-child for good government during the pandemic is New Zealand. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is an admirer of its talented premier Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern’s government isn’t tampering with FoI. The NZ minister of justice Andrew Little has said: “The Official Information Act remains important for holding power to account during this extraordinary time.”

The NZ chief ombudsman, Peter Boshier, got it bang on when he said: “I don’t want to place any unnecessary burden on agencies or ministers but at the same time, big decisions are being made in the wake of the global outbreak and they must be in a position to respond to requests from the media and others for information about those issues as soon as possible.

“There may be a need for even greater transparency when a decision involves public health and safety or those that affect someone’s financial circumstances, housing situation or family circumstances. I have told my staff to give these kinds of complaint priority.”

On the issue of the need for governments around the world to act transparently, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression has said: “It is essential that governments provide truthful information about the nature of the threat posed by the coronavirus. Governments everywhere are obligated under human rights law to provide reliable information in accessible formats to all”.

On how politicians respond to Coronavirus, Human Rights Watch said: “Governments are responsible for providing information necessary for the protection and promotion of rights, including the right to health.”

Transparency International, speaking about the same issue, said it worried about the risk of corruption without openness.

Polls have shown most people in Britain oppose tampering with FoI laws during Coronavirus.

Scotland’s FoI changes only passed with the casting vote of Holyrood’s Presiding Officer, Ken Macintosh, after a legislative tie. An attempt to exempt FoI from the new emergency legislation was defeated when the Green Party backed the SNP.

The Greens seem to have rediscovered their commitment to open government as they now, apparently, plan to oppose the FoI changes today in Holyrood – along with the Tories, Labour and LibDems.

It appears that in the face of opposition, SNP ministers will now reduce FoI extensions, with the maximum delay no more than three months. That’s still far too long.

The Scottish investigative website, The Ferret, has done some strong work on this story. It discovered that in early March the Scottish Government did not think extending FoI deadlines was necessary. However, following pressure by health boards, ministers decided changes were necessary and moved quickly and without the normal consultative processes. That in itself is cause for plenty of concern.

There is a dangerous and anti-democratic arrogance and disregard starting to make itself very obvious within the SNP. At the beginning of the outbreak, Sturgeon’s government flirted with suspending trial by jury. After a much-deserved backlash, the plans were dropped.

Politicians need to be aware that the truth always comes out. They can’t hide, no matter what legislative tricks they pull, or how hard they try to suppress information. And there will be a reckoning to be had with the governing class once the outbreak subsides. No politician in Scotland or England has handled the crisis adequately – and they will be called to account.

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