The Scottish Government has found itself tied in knots once again over transparency – but should we be surprised at politicians not being as open as we would like?

SNP ministers have bluntly been accused by Scottish Labour of presiding over a “rotten culture of secrecy and cover-up” over figures showing only one-third of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests have been responded to in full within the 20 working days timeframe.

Amid calls to reform FoI legislation and expand it to cover more organisations, these figures show that getting the basics right should be a priority.

The Scottish Government has been accused of evading scrutiny over the Michael Matheson iPad fiasco. Despite most of the data roaming debacle being a matter for Holyrood officials and not the government, Humza Yousaf’s administration still has questions to answer, particularly over transparency.

The most obvious headline problems with transparency the public, and the SNP’s political opponents, have starkly seen in recent weeks has been the WhatsApp storm surrounding the UK Covid Inquiry.

This has largely centred around messages being deleted with some impartial Scottish Government officials seemingly joking with colleagues about erasing messages to evade FoI legislation,

It is fair to expect the Scottish Government to comply with the rules set out in the FoI legislation, so trying to evade scrutiny, joking or not, is a red flag.

Then first minister Nicola Sturgeon was one of those who eventually admitted deleted all her messages, claiming government business was not done on WhatsApp. This clearly was not the case.

We have known for some time that Ms Sturgeon was not issued a Scottish Government device and instead used her personal phone for work matters, on a secure part of her handset.

Click here to subscribe to Unspun and get more newsletters delivered by the Herald team

Her WhatsApp messages were clearly not on this secure part of the device and Ms Sturgeon would argue that they are personal and not work-related, but we have seen messages of the former FM and her then chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, discuss a host of key Covid restrictions on the messaging platform.

Despite the fury surrounding the WhatsApps, and the false statements over whether they had been deleted, is it fair to expect ministers should have handed over all of their WhatsApp messages?

The UK Covid Inquiry thinks that they should have – it was up to the inquiry to decide what was important and not ministers.

The Scottish Government has, for some time, been criticised for its attitude to FoI.

Scotland’s Information Commissioner, David Hamilton, is not particularly impressed.

The Herald: Scotland's former First Minister, Nicola SturgeonScotland's former First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (Image: PA)

In December, Mr Hamilton warned that Scotland's international FoI reputation has been "harmed" by a refusal to listen to calls to overhaul the system.

Labour MSP Katy Clark has been campaigning for some time for the Scottish Government to reform FOI legislation and open it to capture more organisations

But SNP ministers booted the appeal into the long grass with the minister responsible, George Adam, insisting Scotland “already has rigorous FoI legislation to ensure accountability around decision-making processes”.

He added that the current set-up “provides robust rights for requesters to be provided with information held by public authorities, balanced against the need for proportionality and the protection of sensitive information".

Mr Adam said the Scottish Government remains “open” to making changes if needed, but doesn’t think there is a need.

Read more Unspun analysis:

=In response to the figures that only one-third of FoI requests are responded to, in full, within the 20 working days window, Mr Adam said that his government is “currently responding to 97% of FOI requests within the statutory deadline, despite an increase of 66% in requests since 2019, to over 5,000 requests in 2023”.

The Scottish Government clearly thinks it is being transparent enough, but the upset surrounding the UK Covid Inquiry shows that there is a perception that this is not the case.

The way a government conducts its business matters. Things should be transparent and out in the open.

Even before Ms Sturgeon and other Scottish Government figures in charge during the pandemic had been questioned by the inquiry, Mr Yousaf’s administration was being accused of secrecy and hiding the truth.

Sometimes it’s easy to get swept up and think, well they must be hiding something if they are not being open, despite no evidence to suggest as much. The way to restore trust is for the Scottish Government to take transparency seriously.

This is not just about how the Scottish Government responds to FoI requests.

Concerns have been raised before and are currently being raised about the transparency around key pieces of legislation going through Holyrood.

The troubled National Care Service proposals have faced severe criticism over governance, accountability and costs.

Lorna Slater’s Circular Economy Bill has estimated costs that have given MSPs concerns while using secondary legislation to roll out potential restrictions on single-use items has opened-up the Government to more criticism, given MSPs will not be able to amend these proposals.

The SNP and Greens will be in government until at least 2026, it is very possible the partnership will exist even longer.

But if the Scottish Government wants to restore some much-needed trust in politics, being open and laying everything on the table is essential.