SNP propaganda machine would make the North Koreans blush

WHEN the official history of the SNP in government is finally produced, who will write it?

Well, given their control freakery, party chiefs might well want to author this definitive masterwork themselves, without external input.

But will there be any donors left to fund it? Possibly not, at this rate, in the midst of a fraud probe into more than £600,000 allegedly missing from the party’s accounts.

It’s something of a comedown for a movement that once filled stadiums with adoring supporters, queuing up to pay homage to the First Minister.

But we can be relatively sure that – in time-honoured tradition – any party history that does see the light of day will be heavily redacted… perhaps John Swinney could put it together?

After his shameful role saving his boss’s skin during the Salmondgate affair, he can be trusted with giving inconvenient facts a wide berth.

It’s the story of a party with pathological secrecy woven deep into its very DNA; a party which governs either with bucketloads of whitewash or the black ink of redaction – whatever’s closer to hand.

All governments like to hide the truth about their failings, and this one has more of them than most – but the SNP has taken it to positively North Korean levels.

The government’s press operation is stuffed full of well-paid apparatchiks – indeed, as we discovered last week, it has more spinners on the payroll than BBC Scotland has reporters.

Entirely healthy, of course, nothing to see here – and yet it’s hard to escape the impression of a phalanx of costly propagandists, paid to distort and possibly suppress.

Maybe that’s what those tax-grabs were about, to pump more cash into the spin department, and ensure it was working at peak capacity at all times.

That’s not to mention the special advisers, occupying the greyest of grey areas, lurking in the margins of government, with opaque job specifications.

It emerged a few years ago that vetting freedom of information (FOI) requests was one of their tasks, with journalists and political researchers treated differently from members of the public when requesting data.

This was brought in by Nicola Sturgeon soon after she was appointed First Minister – having pledged that her Government would be ‘open, listening, accessible and decentralising’.

Once the special advisers were caught out, there were naturally promises to change these dubious practices – but do we have any real evidence to reassure us that the Nationalists are willing to learn from their mistakes?

In the early days of the first lockdown they proposed watering down FOI rules to give public authorities more leeway, as Covid created staffing pressures – an abortive plan that was quickly reversed.

Nonetheless, it was a telling one, suggesting that when things get tough, the tough reach for the broom – and start energetically sweeping under the carpet.

It was a knee-jerk response, but one that has become commonplace within the public sector, inevitably taking its cue from government.

In one recent FOI reply from the Crown Office, large sections were entirely redacted, so that not a single letter was visible – supposedly for ‘commercial reasons’.

Yet these were documents contained within the minutes of the executive board of the Crown, the small group effectively running our prosecution service.

It’s no great surprise to find the former boss of Scotland’s drugs agency, Graeme Pearson, demanding a judge-led inquiry into the inner workings of the increasingly dysfunctional Crown.

(Masters of a secret state: Sturgeon and Swinney)

During the Salmond saga, it was accused of censoring vital evidence, on contentious legal grounds, while its head, the Lord Advocate, continues to hold a Cabinet position.

Meanwhile, taxpayers are facing a bill of up to £100million in damages for the ‘malicious prosecutions’ of key figures in the Rangers fraud debacle.

That mess will be subject to an inquiry, so we’re told, though it’s yet to materialise.

The man who was in charge when things went so spectacularly wrong is now a High Court judge – so will anyone carry the can for the fiasco? It seems, on the whole, unlikely.

We’re not even allowed to know how much judges or retired judges are being paid for presiding over inquiries, many of them into blunders of the SNP’s own making – yet it’s our money, so why won’t they tell us?

Then there’s the OECD report on the state of Scottish education, which was a damning assessment if you looked between the lines – but was spun as a triumphant vindication of the SNP’s Curriculum for Excellence.

The Tories are asking some uncomfortable questions about why it was delayed until after the May 6 election, and whether the government might have leant on the OECD to come up with broadly favourable conclusions. Perish the thought…

Former Health Secretary ‘Calamity Jeane’ Freeman has now left front line politics, but last week interrupted her retirement to try and explain why she delayed the detailed publication of statistics on Covid deaths in individual care homes.

It transpired that Miss Freeman wasn’t keen on the idea – nothing to do with the fact that on her watch coronavirus spread like wildfire among the elderly and vulnerable, as Covid-positive (or untested) patients were discharged from hospitals into care.

Miss Freeman did find time to retweet a comment by former Labour minister Malcolm Chisholm about the virus being ‘dangerously out of control’ in Scotland – possibly an implicit swipe at her hapless successor Humza Yousaf.

The secret history of the SNP would have to include a chapter or two on the inquiry by James Hamilton into whether Miss Sturgeon misled MSPs over her knowledge of the Salmond allegations.

It’s the greatest story never told: more than 1,000 words were carefully excised, which alarmed and disappointed Mr Hamilton, a former prosecutor.

Another inquiry, by MSPs, was considerably less sympathetic to the First Minister, but it was hopelessly politicised and couldn’t be trusted – at least according to Miss Sturgeon and her chums.

Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said the affair was the ‘mother of all cover-ups’, but in reality it was merely the latest in a long line of them – albeit the most egregious.

The truth – or as much of it as we’re ever permitted to know – had to be dragged out of ministers and a procession of obfuscatory civil servants, like a series of painful tooth extractions.

And yet there’s no sign that the modus operandi of this paranoid bunch will change anytime soon.

Its political opponents have landed some punches, and deserve credit for preventing an outright SNP majority.

But in the main the SNP has grown used to getting its own way.

The government machine – in all of its manifestations – now regards truth and transparency as obstacles to its exercise of power.

And it won’t stop until the cabal at the top of this rotten structure is shamed into changing its mindset – or ousted.

You can judge for yourself what’s the likeliest outcome, but until it happens secret Scotland will go from strength to strength.

*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on July 27, 2021.

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