News 05th May 2023

More heat than light - Scottish Parliament debates transparency

Juliet Swann

Nations and Regions Programme Manager

Juliet (she/her) is based in Edinburgh and leads our work in Scotland. She also monitors Wales and Northern Ireland to identify opportunities for TI-UK in those countries. She is Chair of the Open Government Partnership Scotland Civil Society Steering Group, working collaboratively with government on transparency of and public participation in decision making.

Press Office
[email protected]
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695 
Out of hours:
Weekends; Weekdays (17.30-21.30):
+44 (0)79 6456 0340

Related Publication

The Scottish Parliament held a debate on transparency on 3rd May, but what could have been a renewed commitment to Holyrood’s founding principle of openness and transparency was instead a bit of a bùrach.

However, some MSPs did raise valid and important issues:

Members mentioned Katy Clark’s (Labour, West Scotland) proposed members bill to extend Freedom of Information powers – proposals we wholeheartedly support.

We would also agree with Michael Marra’s (Labour, North East Scotland) assertion that there are loopholes to be closed in the lobbying register. Indeed, we have been asking for improvements since the 2020 post legislative review.

Willie Rennie (Liberal Democrat, North­­­ East Fife) raised the issue of public finances and we agree that the investment of public money by nationalising or investing in failing organisations should be subject to the highest standards of integrity and transparency. Our recent letter to the new First Minister included a recommendation that he establish an independent review of the governance of nationalised enterprises in Scotland including Ferguson Marine, referencing Transparency International’s 10 Anti-Corruption Principles for State-Owned Enterprises.

We were also pleased to hear Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife Liz Smith emphasise the critical importance of openness, accountability and transparency for good governance and renewed trust between the Government and the public.

She added: “I do not see how anyone could argue otherwise or seek to undermine those principles.” We would urge Ms Smith to share this with her own party colleagues at Westminster.

She might be minded to reference some members’ concerns that a donor to the Conservative party was honoured with a peerage and then appointed as a Minister to the Scotland Office. The public think awarding of peerages to party donors is unacceptable. Holding office should not be a reward received by the wealthy who spend their money supporting political parties. A £10,000 cap on donations per person per year would dampen the need to reward big donors.

Turning to the contribution from George Adam, SNP MSP for Paisley and Minister for Cabinet & Parliamentary Business, who stated in his opening remarks:

“…this Government places a great importance on openness and transparency. We are fully committed to meeting the standards of open Government that our public rightly expects of us. I will give just a few examples of that: ministerial engagements and travel are published monthly; we also aim to proactively publish minutes of Government meetings on our website, so that people can see who their Government is meeting and what we are discussing, and understand how decisions are made.”

This ambition is welcome and aspires to standards that Transparency International has of governments. Unfortunately, such claims on behalf of the Scottish Government are undermined by the actual data available. Firstly, whilst ministerial meetings are published on a month by month basis, they are not shared monthly. Indeed, the latest data on the Scottish Government website as I write this is from February 2023.

Secondly, the assertion that this, and associated minutes would allow people to “see… what we are discussing and understand how decisions are made” could only be said to be true if reviewing ministerial meeting information came with a crystal ball. The details of Mr Adam’s own meetings in February include such enlightening descriptions as “Parliamentary Business”, “Bute House Agreement”, and “Elections”.

Transparency International UK do not consider such brief descriptions to be sufficient information for the public to have any idea of what these meetings are discussing or to see how decisions are made. We urge the Scottish Government to improve the reporting of Ministerial meetings.

We hope highlighting these areas where transparency could be improved in Scotland assists our politicians in taking forward their commitment to good governance. Our recommendation to the First Minister is that he appoint a Good Governance Champion to oversee these necessary and urgent improvements.