Thursday, 15 January 2009

And nothing but the truth?

Today's call by Holyrood Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson for the Standards and Privileges Committee to investigate the truthfulness of ministerial replies to the Scottish Parliament is welcome in one sense.

It does, as Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott said, put the Gnat government on notice that it can't expect to get away with being cavalier in its statements to parliament, which it often has been over the past 18 months.

But don't expect anything much to come from any inquiry. Ultimately, it's down to MSPs themselves to ensure that statements given to Parliament are accurate, and to hold people to account if they are not.

Fergusson is correct that it is not a matter for him to rule on whether an answer is accurate or not - he doesn't have the knowledge of every aspect of government policy and business to decide whether a minister is telling porkies or being economical with the truth. No Presiding Officer can be expected to act as the referee on everything ministers say.

MSPs as a whole have to stand up for themselves and do exactly what Tavish did with the Scottish Interfaith Council, which is to examine what a minister has said and expose any contradiction with the facts. That's what accountability is all about.

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