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I HAVE written at length in past columns about the SNP’s problem with openness and transparency.
My experience of their minority administration of Glasgow City Council has been one where decisions are made behind closed doors and then foisted on elected members at a moment’s notice to try to force through policy without adequate scrutiny. This past week we have seen some of the most egregious examples of how the SNP’s obsession with secrecy is both hurting public trust and the ability of democratically elected legislators to hold them accountable for their actions.
Less than 24 hours after Nicola Sturgeon professed to Holyrood under questioning from Ruth Davidson that she was not in any way trying to obstruct the work of the special committee set up to investigate the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against the former first minister, Alex Salmond, media reports emerged that the SNP had hired a top law firm to attempt to stymie the committee’s ability to question the chief executive of the SNP – Peter Murrell. According to The Herald, the firm wrote to the committee on behalf of the SNP to raise objections to some of their requests of Mr Murrell despite the First Minister’s repeated assurances that both she, her party and her government would co-operate fully with the work of the inquiry.
Ruth was right to describe these actions as a “shabby abuse of power” and, in my experience working with the SNP at a local level, are fully indicative of the way in which they operate across the board in the arrogant belief that they are above scrutiny. But we would say that wouldn’t we? So why not listen to the convener of the committee – herself an SNP MSP – who said that the investigation has become “completely frustrated” by “obstruction” and the lack of evidence being handed over to the committee.
At First Minister’s Questions last week Nicola Sturgeon said it was outrageous that she was being asked to verify the authenticity of WhatsApp messages purported to be sent by her husband, Mr Murrell, which appear to suggest partisan involvement in the criminal proceedings against Alex Salmond. Only in the SNP’s Scotland would it be deemed an outrage that a party leader is asked a question about the chief executive of that political party’s involvement in proceedings against the former leader of that same political party. The genuine outrage is that this sorry affair betrays both the SNP’s natural secretive instincts and, by obstructing the work of the committee, their complete failure to even attempt to learn the lessons on harassment and conduct on behalf of the staff members to whom they have a responsibility of care.
Amid the revelations of SNP MP Margaret Ferrier travelling from London to Scotland following a positive test for coronavirus, further questions about the SNP’s transparency are being asked regarding seeming inconsistencies in who knew what and when.
It’s inconceivable that the Speaker of the House of Commons could have been made aware of Ms Ferrier’s circumstances before Ian Blackford or the SNP whips, and yet it took more than 24 hours for the information to be made public and SNP sources initially briefed the media that they were not planning to suspend her.
Like so many facets of the SNP’s approach to governing Scotland, I suspect that answers to all of these questions will not be forthcoming. It is a sad state of affairs that freedom of information requests have become the modus operandi for those who seek to perform our democratic duties and scrutinise the SNP. I know that my party, and those in broader civil society who cherish political pluralism and a rigorous system of democratic accountability, will continue to do all we can to hold them to the same standards they purport to hold themselves.
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Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond, Scotland, Scottish Parliament, Scottish Government, Ruth Davidson, Inquiry
Actu monde – GB – Thomas Kerr: SNP are stronger for secrecy, but not for Scotland