A Scottish National Party Minister has been accused of pervading over a culture of ‘evasiveness and secrecy’ by blocking the publication of their dealings with The Prince of Wales over Scottish education. John Swinney, the SNP’s Education Minister, sent emails saying he would ‘prefer’ the material regarding Prince Charles be withheld from a Freedom of Information response about Teach First, an education charity of which Charles is Patron.
Holyrood’s opposition parties highlighted the emails that had been sent by John Swinney regarding Prince Charles and also disclosed that Colin McCallister, his Senior Political Special Adviser, was consulted and Civil Servants ‘addressed’ the points he made in their response.
In December 2017, the Scottish Government published a Freedom of Information Request indicating that The Prince of Wales privately lobbied Alex Salmond in 2013, then First Minister of Scotland, about Teach First. It was not known at the time of release that John Swinney had requested that some documents be kept secret.
John Swinney has since faced allegations in the Holyrood chamber of having been caught “ordering key documents to be withdrawn.”
Following a seven month FOI battle with a journalist, the Scottish Government published an email from June 30th, 2017 regarding a previous request for correspondence about Teach First. The email said, Mr Swinney, would like officials to examine whether they “could not release the material relating to Prince Charles or his Private Secretary.”
Sir Edward Mountain, a Tory MSP, commented, “The evidence suggests that special advisers are routinely involved in the freedom of information process for political purposes and John Swinney himself is suppressing documents when it suits him.”
Nicola Sturgeon told Holyrood, “At all times, freedom of information requests are handled in line with legislation, including consideration of whether particular exemptions are applied.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said,”The legal duty to comply with FOI legislation lies with Scottish Ministers.”
Teach First is social enterprise registered as a charity that aims to address educational disadvantage. Teach First coordinates an employment-based teacher training programme whereby participants achieve Qualified Teacher Status.
Photo Credit: Ian Livesey