ANAS Sarwar accused Humza Yousaf of presiding over a "rotten culture of secrecy and incompetence" during a heated, and at times, personal exchange during First Minister's Questions. 

The Labour politician laughed as the SNP leader claimed he was aiming to make his government the most transparent in the UK. 

Mr Sarwar started by pushing Mr Yousaf on the Scottish Government’s handling of freedom of information requests. 

Data obtained by Labour showed that 490 FOI requests had been marked as requiring a Ministerial decision. In 2020, just 101 requests were subject to this level of political direction. 

Labour said this would likely understate the total number of cases of political involvement, as Special Advisers - politically appointed aides - would also look at the requests. 

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The data, obtained by Labour through FOI, also showed that the average response time for an FOI to the Scottish Government over the last 12 months was 22 days. 

However, the average response time for those FOIs requiring a Ministerial decision in the last 12 months is 41 days.

Mr Sarwar told MSPs: “There is a culture of secrecy and cover-up at the heart of this dysfunctional and incompetent SNP Government.

“New data we are publishing today shows the number of FOI requests the Scottish Government has passed on to ministers for approval has risen fivefold.

“Once a case goes to ministers to sign off, or to cover up, waiting times double.”

The First Minister accused Mr Sarwar of “desperation”, saying he was “trying to throw as much mud as he possibly can to hope that things stick”.

He said the Scottish Government has ambitious targets for FOIs saying he wants to “ensure that we are the most transparent Government on these islands”.

Mr Sarwar replied: “He says he’s transparent, transparently hopeless is what people will see right across the country,”

The Labour leader went on to ask the First Minister about the outcome of a bullying investigation into former minister Fergus Ewing. 

He pointed out that Nicola Sturgeon had said there were legal reasons why she could not publish the findings of the probe. 

However, earlier this month, Mr Yousaf said he was “happy” to check if there was an absolute legal bar to releasing the outcome. 

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Mr Sarwar said this was because Mr Ewing had “the audacity to question the SNP leadership.” 

“Does he believe in transparency every day, or just when he desperately needs it to try and intimidate his critics?” he asked. 

The First Minister called the question “desperate, desperate stuff.”

He said the Labour leader was “somebody who has lots of style, but no substance.”

“We now have a no style and no substance First Minister and leader of the SNP,” Mr Sarwar replied. 

“The SNP are taking Scots for a ride and we don't even get the luxury of enjoying the campervan. FOI laws are floated, dissent is suppressed and problems are swept under the carpet. This is a dysfunctional, incompetent and sleaze-running government failing all the basics and this has consequences.”

“I have two questions for the First Minister. He says he is transparent. So can you tell us how many police investigations are ongoing in to the activities of his party and his government? And secondly, when will he finally end the rotten culture of secrecy and incompetence at the heart of this SNP government?”

The First Minister referred to recent opinion polling, saying: “I saw Anas Sarwar celebrating polls that one again put the Labour Party in second place.

“Celebrating being a loser, that sums up Anas Sarwar and the Scottish Labour Party.”

Speaking to journalists after First Minister’s Questions, Mr Yousaf was asked why he hadn’t answered Mr Sarwar’s questions on police investigations. 

He said he could not comment on live police investigations. 

"You know all the investigations that are underway, that's the only investigation," he added.