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by Anas Sarwar
31 August 2022
The SNP's culture of secrecy is doing lasting damage to trust in politics

The SNP has been accused of presiding over a culture of secrecy at Holyrood | Credit: Alamy

The SNP's culture of secrecy is doing lasting damage to trust in politics

In politics and beyond, this has been another eventful year to say the least – and not always in a good way.

To start on a positive note, this year’s local elections felt like a landmark moment for Scottish Labour and for Scottish politics. There haven’t been many times in the last decade where it has been easy to be a member of the Scottish Labour Party, but this year’s council election results marked a good day for us. Not only did we make it clear we are back on the pitch, but we pushed the Tories out of second place. 

But second place is not good enough – to really change lives we have to come first, and that is always going to be my aim. This election fundamentally changed the landscape of Scottish politics by showing voters they can choose something different.

For too long we’ve had our politics dominated by parties who want to put people in tribes – Leave or Remain, Yes or No – and only govern for the half of the country that agrees with them.

They want to divide Scotland into two camps and convince them to dislike and distrust one another. But this last year has proven that Scotland is no longer stuck choosing between the SNP and the Tories, both whipping up bitterness and division to distract from their own failures. They can choose a better future with a forward looking and optimistic Labour Party.

But while it’s been a good year for Scottish Labour, there is no denying the fact it has been a bad year for politics. We have seen politics dragged into the gutter by Boris Johnson and his corrupt government. The warm and welcoming party Ruth Davidson tried to spin into existence is dead, replaced by the same old nasty Tories. 

Never in the history of devolution has there been a single party with so much power and time which has done so little with it.

Boris Johnson’s time as prime minister is now ending, and not a moment too soon – but the damage he has done will last. His legacy is secured as the man who partied through lockdown. Who celebrated his own birthday while others couldn’t even mourn at funerals. Who broke law, misled parliament and lied to the public. We all breathed a sigh of relief when he resigned, but we won’t get the fresh start as long as the Tories are in government. 

This is a party that is rotten to the core – that allowed a cheat, a charlatan, a man devoid of any principles or any values to become the prime minister of this country. It’s the Tories who inflicted this carnage on our country – they are not the ones to help us rebuild from it.

Boris Johnson’s successor was silent when he degraded the office of prime minister and bulldozed through the standards we expect politicians to follow, only speaking up when it was in their interest to do so. They are complicit in the same crimes, deceit, and failures. 

Likewise Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross sacrificed the last shred of his credibility with his dizzying series of U-turns, but his zealous flip-flopping doesn’t erase his decision to back Boris Johnson as he threatened the very future of the UK.

This debacle has proven once and for all that the Tories are a gift to the SNP, acting as the perfect bogeyman and giving them cover for their failures. 

Things in Holyrood might have looked calmer this year, but below the surface a corrosive culture of secrecy created by the SNP is doing lasting damage to standards in public life and trust in politics. After 15 years in government, the SNP are increasingly convinced that the rules don’t apply to them.

They act as if any form of scrutiny is an affront, treating parliament and press with contempt and riding roughshod over Freedom of Information laws. Investigations into bullying have been buried, key documents lost, and scandals covered-up. Parliamentary votes are ignored, committees are palmed off, and journalists are locked out of events.

We see the same pattern time and time again, from the fiasco at Ferguson Marine to the tragedies at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital – no transparency, no accountability, and no real change.

Never in the history of devolution has there been a single party with so much power and time which has done so little with it. They are a tired government with the same answer to every question. They are trying to drag people back into the arguments of the past because they don’t have any ideas for the future. 

The total lack of ideas and ambition from both the Tory and the SNP governments has been all too clear over the last year. Faced with the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, both Scotland’s governments have been missing in action. 

Make no mistake, this is a national emergency. People are facing the worst fall in living standards since the war. Millions of people are already struggling and it’s going to get worse as summer turns to winter.

By the end of the year the price of your energy bill could have gone up by almost 200 per cent. But while countless households are facing the impossible choice between heating and eating, oil and gas giants are raking in billions of pounds of profits and being handed tax breaks.

It’s clear more of the same won’t do. We need a response that matches the scale of this crisis. Both our governments – in Holyrood and in Westminster – have a moral duty to rise to that challenge.

But as millions of Scots brace for a recession and the economic havoc it could create, the SNP and the Tories are both busy playing the same old games. They are still obsessing over their own priorities instead of those of the people. They are more interested in throwing red meat to their supporters online and encouraging the trivialisation of our politics with the usual abuse and the usual faux outage. At a time when we desperately need our governments to deliver, they have failed to show up.

But it is not enough just to criticise these two failing governments – we need to replace them. The next general election is a chance to boot out this rotten Tory government and give the UK the fresh start we urgently need, but only Labour can do that.

A corrosive culture of secrecy created by the SNP is doing lasting damage to standards in public life and trust in politics.

Because we are already starting that campaign right now to build a coalition of the people, across the country, to boot the Tories out of Downing Street. Let me clear – that is a coalition of the people, not of political parties.

No ifs, not buts, no deals with the SNP. The mission of the Labour Party is always to be a party of government, and that is still true in Scottish Labour. 

If this last year has shown us anything, it’s how badly Scotland needs a credible and optimistic alternative. I’m proud about the progress we made this year, but I am not settling for second place – I am aspiring to first.

I want the party I lead to change lives, but you can’t do that as a party of protest. I am looking forward to building on the progress we have made so far, and spending another year working with people across Scotland to build a better future for us all. 

Anas Sarwar is leader of Scottish Labour. This article appears in Holyrood's Annual Review: A Look Back on the Parliamentary Year

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