Forget open and honest government.

Spin and outright deceit hold sway like never before.

IT was Donald Dewar’s dream that devolution would ‘make government more open, more accessible and more accountable’.

Yet two decades after that grand promise, the state in all its forms – from central to local government and myriad quangos – has never been more secretive.

Obfuscation and spin are now the defining characteristics of an apparatus that depends on a legion of public relations experts to dissemble or suppress.

One of the strangest features of modern democracy is the simple fact that we all pay through our taxes for spin doctors who often work against our interests.

Their main job is to put a positive gloss on inconvenient realities, or bury them entirely (and they provide a useful buffer between those irritating journalists and taxpayer-funded officials).

Freedom of information (FOI) laws have proved one way to prise out the closely guarded information that these highly paid propagandists would rather we didn’t know.

But those laws have been roundly abused, with many public bodies flouting supposedly strict deadlines for responses.

Earlier this year, journalists and campaigners complained about FOI questions being ignored, or answered late, and minutes of meetings not being taken by Scottish Government officials – meaning they could not be disclosed.

Ministers have also admitted that political operatives regularly screen FOI responses before they are released to members of the public – heaven forfend that you would ever be allowed to see the whole, unvarnished truth…

Tony Blair once said he regretted the introduction of FOI, as the scheme was ‘not practical for government’, and certainly not for a spin-driven government like his, with so much to hide.

The Nationalists are master practitioners of spin, learning much of their craft from New Labour at its peak.

After dropping his initial plans for an abortive local income tax, it emerged in 2011 that Alex Salmond had spent more than £100,000 of taxpayers’ money twice going to the Court of Session in Edinburgh to prevent the Press disclosing details of the levy’s financial implications.

(Not surprisingly, it would have been ruinous for middle-class families.)

In 2013, it emerged that ministers had spent £19,452.92 going to court to appeal a ruling by the FOI Commissioner that they had to disclose whether they had sought advice from their law officers on the issue of an independent Scotland’s EU membership.

Nicola Sturgeon, then Deputy First Minister, suddenly announced the case was being dropped in 2012 because ‘no specific legal advice’ existed.

The row was particularly damaging for the pro-independence campaign at the time, as Mr Salmond had previously suggested in a television interview that he had received advice from Scottish Government law officers.

Remember that back then, SNP ministers were repeatedly claiming a separate Scotland would inherit the UK’s EU membership and opt-outs – now accepted as an entirely false assumption.

In May, we revealed that SNP candidate Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a close ally of Mr Salmond’s, was being investigated by the Law Society of Scotland over allegations of financial impropriety.

When the Mail first asked the SNP about the investigation, its spokesmen failed to respond, so we postponed the story in the interests of securing a response from the party.

By the time the story was published, still without a comment, Mrs Ahmed-Sheikh had been confirmed as the SNP candidate for Ochil and South Perthshire in June’s General Election.

On the day of publication, Mrs Ahmed-Sheikh finally disclosed that she was indeed co-operating with the Law Society’s probe.

Miss Sturgeon said she was standing by her, and it emerged that Mrs Ahmed-Sheikh had known about the inquiry for months but failed to declare it publicly.

It was unclear whether or not this knowledge was shared with Miss Sturgeon, because she wouldn’t say, and the Law Society’s investigation continues.

Hardly a straight approach with the electorate, you might think, but that’s far from surprising when you recall the mess in May this year over EU agricultural subsidy payments.

Thousands of farmers faced a delay in payments from the Scottish Government after it made a monumental hash of processing the payments in time.

Miss Sturgeon failed to answer questions at Holyrood on whether the Scottish Government had held discussions with the European Commission about the delays.

But it was later confirmed that officials had contacted the Commission to request a three-and-a-half month extension to the June 30 deadline for processing the payments.

Miss Sturgeon’s candour, it seems, had failed her – a problem that also afflicted her deputy John Swinney during the row over murdered toddler Liam Fee and his Named Person.

Mr Swinney, in a show of righteous indignation, said last year that it was ‘atrocious to try to establish any link between the Named Person proposition and the Liam Fee case’.

He claimed Liam – tortured and killed by his mother and her civil partner – ‘did not have a Named Person in terms of the legislation that parliament has put in place’.

But a Significant Case Review later found that Liam was indeed the subject of an early Named Person scheme, and stated this may have ‘contributed to confusion’ as to who was co-ordinating care for him.

The SNP is still forging ahead with plans to roll out Named Person, which amounts to mass state surveillance of all children, despite the controversy over Liam – and a devastating Supreme Court judgment last year which ruled it was largely unlawful.

Earlier this month, when it banned fracking, the SNP said an ‘overwhelming majority’ of the 60,535 responses received during a four-month consultation were opposed to the practice.

However, the Scottish Government’s own analysis shows that 51 per cent of responses were merely ‘petition signatories’, while 35 per cent were ‘standard campaign responses’ to which individual respondents had merely added their name.

Last month ministers were accused of trying to cover up costs relating to the Edinburgh tram inquiry after refusing to say how much the chairman, Lord Hardie, is being paid.

Previously, the salaries of chairmen of many of the most high-profile public inquiries in the UK have been confirmed publicly, including the remuneration of former Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry chairman Susan O’Brien QC.

In March, SNP proposals to open up Scotland’s NHS database to scores of public bodies were quietly dropped after a storm of protest – in response to a parliamentary question, tucked away on the Holyrood website.

Perhaps the most shocking evidence of state secrecy came earlier this year amid the row over Andrew Flanagan, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority, the ineffectual watchdog for the single force.

He was forced to announce he would quit back in June after being accused of running the dysfunctional quango like the Kremlin.

Mr Flanagan remains in post four months later, earning an average of nearly £3,500 a month, while a successor is found.

The wages of spin aren’t that bad, it seems – but Mr Dewar’s promise of ‘more open, more accessible and more accountable’ government has never sounded more hollow.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Facebook: @sdmnewspaper

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Graham Grant.

Graham Grant.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Facebook: @sdmnewspaper

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