14 January 2013

FOI Test for SNP at Holyrood

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie is rightly taking the fight to the SNP on Freedom of Information.

It is imperative that those in positions of power demonstrate how their decisions are made especially after an autumn which saw the Scottish Government behave appallingly over whether or not they had asked for legal advice about the position of a newly independent Scotland within the EU.

Over the years I have seen all sorts of decisions made on whims or for populist short term gain at the expense of the longer term good of the public.  

When the Scottish Parliament was set up Jim Wallace, as Justice Minister, piloted through the most comprehensive FOI legislation in British history. This meant that the actions of ministers at Holyrood and those of us in local government were open to closer scrutiny than ever before.

Contrast this with  what happened at a UK level. Tony Blair now rails against the muted FOI act his government introduced claiming it was one of the worst things he did in power. 

Noting that the worst thing he actually did was sanction the invasion of Iraq and mislead the British public over whether Saddam had WMD then i am not surprised he wanted to  to hide his actions away from wider public scrutiny.

In these times when all sorts of people make wild speculation about the existential threat to the Liberal Democrats we would do well to recall the words of an old Tory. 

 “News is what someone, somewhere wants to suppress, everything else is just advertising.”
  according to
Press Baron Lord Northcliff in 1914.

If the Liberal Democrats didn't exist to promote open government  and to protect our  traditional freedoms we would have to invent them.


Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP has urged the SNP to
begin 2013 with a fresh commitment to open government. Speaking ahead of
the Stage 3 debate on the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland)
Bill, Mr Rennie has called on Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to
support the introduction of a purpose clause to the bill.

The purpose clause would plainly set out how the bill could be used to
expand the public’s right to access information about bodies which spend
the public pound. It requires governments to increase progressively the
availability of information held by Scottish public authorities. This is an
amendment the Scottish Liberal Democrats will be supporting in the final

Speaking ahead of the debate, Mr Rennie said:

“2012 saw the SNP throw away any credibility it had for governing openly
and transparently. While Alex Salmond talked of a modern, liberal Scotland,
his government was drawing the blinds and double locking the doors. The
Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) bill is the first test of
whether the SNP have been listening to concerns about their fondness for

“When the parliament has its final debate on the bill, I will be urging
Nicola Sturgeon to support the introduction of a purpose clause. This
would, in very plain terms, require any Scottish government to take the
steps needed to improve the public’s access to information. It would
require bodies to proactively release information rather than wait for
someone to ask.

“As more local authorities deliver their services through arms’ length
organisations, I share the concerns of the Information Commissioner that
citizen’s rights will continue to be eroded if access to information is not
expanded. Nicola Sturgeon has admitted Freedom of Information coverage has
been eroded since the act was enacted so now she needs to act.

“We also need a commitment to expand, by the end of the year, the range of
bodies covered by FOI law to include bodies that spend public money. The
SNP could then begin the year with a fresh commitment to open government.

“From misleading Scotland about the existence of legal advice on an
independent Scotland’s position in the EU, to hiding cuts to college
budgets, people I meet across Scotland have been appalled with the SNP’s
dislike for openness. Only this week we’ve learnt that now the ministerial
code will be changed to provide clarity around what ministers can and
cannot say about legal advice.

“The Scottish Parliament was founded on the tenets of openness. Under the
SNP, those foundations are beginning to crumble. I will be urging Nicola
Sturgeon to demonstrate that her government has listened to concerns by
supporting a move for clarity in the Freedom of Information (Amendment)
(Scotland) bill.”

13 January 2013

First Flurry

As I type this post the  first snow of the year is gently tumbling down. The view from my window looks down on to an ancient cemetery with lots of mature trees and an old gravedigger house which has a number of sloped roofs at different angles

The first fall of snow always  prompts a bit of nervousness. The common view is that the British don't prepare well for winter weather.  Certainly when we had the worst winter I can recall a couple of years ago the council stung by criticism of a failure to clear roads and pavements quickly enough produced a  set of proposals for dealing with heavy snow fall which has since gone untested.

One of these was to use a "wovel". This  is a snow clearing device which uses a wheel to take the strain out of clearing heavy snow in the street.  A handy you tube video below shows how it works.

Not expensive I recall that the East Neighbourhood team were all lined up to trial this though my own est team  had now presumably choosing the lesser of two wovels!

Now the earth is round and while we shiver in Edinburgh my brother in Tasmania has been trying to enjoy his summer holiday. Chris is a teacher and in Oz their long summer holiday is in our winter months.

The long summer holiday is all well and good but the trouble is that he is also a volunteer with the local Fire Brigade and his pager has been going off regularly due to bush fires. 

Try as I might I couldn't upload his video of the decimated woodland but I do have this snap  of Hobart by night.

With 100kmph gusts fanning the flames and winds that change direction quickly this is clearly a very risky way to spend your summer.   

6 January 2013

A New Year

Good Morning and a belated Happy New Year to my readers.

I personally had a great Christmas and New Year. Like everyone else I spent it watching too much TV and eating too much. I also managed to get through three book and out to see the Life of Pi and Midnight's Children in the cinemas and catch up on a mass of household chores. 

Politically 2013 is an election free year in Scotland and provided all political parties up here  with a period of respite after annual elections tussles for the last four years. 

Before the next set of elections we will have the referendum on whether Scotland should separate from the rest of the UK.  

Liberals, as natural federalists, have no problem in being Scottish, British and European. Certainly the mood on the door steps of West Edinburgh I was on with Lib Dem Leader Willie Rennie before Christmas was massively against separation.

One point Willie has stressed is the need once the whole referendum is over for Scotland to come together after what is already promising to be a deeply divisive period in our recent history.

Much of what goes on this year will set the tone for the referendum campaign. Already there is an edge to the nastiness coming from campaigners which both sides would do well to reign in before it gets out of hand.

With the referendum already posing existential questions for the SNP - if they win what are they for?  If the lose what are they for? - It will be up to the Liberal Democrats as the least tribal party to do our best to bring a fractured Scotland back together again.