Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles has today demanded the SNP Government scrap an instruction to 'immediately delete' emails detailing the involvement of special advisers in responding to freedom of information requests, describing it as "outrageous" and calling for the emails to be recovered and published.
Investigative journalist James McEnaney uncovered the "rules" for the email inbox for special advisers involved in responding to FOI requests, which included the instruction:
"Once SpAds have provided final comments on the request keep only the e-mail containing the final comments and the final response letter. Delete everything else immediately."
Special advisers are party political appointments and their emails, notebooks and other documents are liable for release under the Freedom of Information Act.
Scottish Liberal Democrats have filed a series of parliamentary questions and demanded immediate reforms.
On Thursday 21st March, the Scottish Parliament's Public Audit committee will take evidence from the Scottish Information Commissioner and the Campaign for Freedom of Information Scotland.
Mr Rumbles said:
"This outrageous instruction is designed to cover the tracks of special advisers. There is no other good reason for deleting emails showing how they were involved in the process of responding to freedom of information requests from journalists, members of the public and MSPs.
"This instruction is without question unethical and if a request has already been made for this information it is in fact illegal to destroy it. The words "delete everything else immediately" are not compatible with good governance, transparency or the SNP's claim to be running the most open government ever.
"Ministers told us last June in Parliament that special advisers were only screening requests for accuracy. This is further evidence that their role goes far beyond this and that there is significant political involvement in what is supposed to be a non-political and transparent process.
"The SNP Government must immediately retract this instruction. Deleted emails have a tendency not to be wiped entirely so I am also calling on ministers to order that these documents be recovered and published so that everyone can see exactly what was binned.
"I also expect that this instruction will be of interest to the Information Commissioner who is already investigating the Scottish Government's FOI practices."