The Sunday Herald has today published a story concerning the conduct of the Scottish Information Commissioner which raises serious questions about this organisation’s impartiality. This story has come about as a result of an investigation which has been ongoing since September regarding the government’s plans for National Standardised Testing
In November, CommonSpace exclusively revealed that this policy had been informed by just four emails but, at that stage, the emails themselves were not released. (1) The request currently before the Scottish Information Commissioner concerns the content of these emails.
Commenting, James McEnaney - RISE candidate and Education Spokesperson - said:
"We are very concerned at the behaviour of the Scottish Information Commissioner and her officers.
"On Tuesday I received an email informing me that the Information Commissioner had "decided not to issue any decisions which might put forward a critical view of Ministers" until after the Holyrood election on 5 May.
"We were then told that the Commissioner, acting on advice the Scottish Government has issued to civil servants, had decided to delay our FOI appeal due to 'purdah' rules governing civil service impartiality during an election period.
"And then we were told that, in fact, a decision on our request may be made before the election, depending on how it effects the Commissioner's claim to 'impartiality'.
"On three separate occasions the Commissioner confirmed to us, in writing, that she factors the risk of releasing information critical of ministers into her decision-making process.
"This is a clear breach of one of the IC's main commitments, which is to remain politically neutral at all times. It is clearly not appropriate for the IC to protect Scottish Government ministers from criticism by delaying the release of potentially sensitive or damaging information, regardless of whether an election campaign is ongoing.
"The SIC is not a civil service organisation. It is not bound by 'purdah' rules. Moreover, 'purdah' has never before been invoked by the SIC to delay information requests. So why is it being invoked now?
"Delaying the publication of information relevant to the public interest in order to defend politicians from criticism is a violation of the principle of freedom of information. Indeed, it defeats the very point of FOI - to make government more transparent and accountable.
"Governments can only be held to account if the public are in possession of all relevant information prior to an election campaign. Clearly, any action which prevents this should be taken seriously.
"As a matter of democratic urgency, Scottish voters have the right to know why this extraordinary decision has been taken."