Freedom of Information is a democratic advance that must be protected – Scotsman comment

Scotland rejoices in what our government tells us is the “most open and transparent freedom of information regime in the UK”.

The people and parliament must make sure the Scottish government responds to freedom of information requests in a timely manner (Picture: Andy Buchanan/pool/Getty Images)
The people and parliament must make sure the Scottish government responds to freedom of information requests in a timely manner (Picture: Andy Buchanan/pool/Getty Images)

So it is a little bit disappointing, after hearing such glad tidings only in November, to discover that any responses to freedom of information requests to the Scottish government have not been forthcoming within the statutory deadline of 20 days.

But, 346 times in 10-and-a-half months? That’s about one a day (if the freedom of information regime was failing to issue timely responses to requests on weekends as well as weekdays which, of course, it is not).

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However, surely, we hear you cry, the Covid crisis provides a reasonable explanation. Well, yes, but then why was the deadline missed on more than 600 occasions in 2016 and 454 times in 2017? We only hope that the Covid-affected figure of 346 is actually a sign of improvement.

Tony Blair infamously regrets bringing in the Freedom of Information Act and others in positions of power may well share the sentiment, given a requirement to tell the public what is actually going on can sometimes be, let’s say, inconvenient.

The Act was an improvement to the state of our democracy and should therefore be resolutely defended by the public against any efforts, overt or covert, to undermine it.

Otherwise our “freedom of information regime” may start to look more like a Monty Python sketch, a scene from Yes, Minister, or perhaps even something out of George Orwell’s 1984: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

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