Today (1 June) the Daily Record tells its readers that the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland is complimenting the SNP Scottish Government’s handling of the virus in Scotland. Yes, that is correct! He is reported as saying: “On the whole, I think they’ve handled it well. I think they’re precautionary approach is one that we support.” I’m sure the Scottish Government is mightily relieved to have his positive endorsement!
But in this are we seeing a split, a difference of opinion between Mr Leonard and that of Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Ian Murray MP?
Despite this and in what looks like a struggle for relevance, the Daily Record still grants Mr Leonard the opportunity to take a swipe at the Scottish Government. According to the Record, he is claiming that the Scottish Government’s response to coronavirus is not being submitted to enough parliamentary scrutiny. The purpose of the Record’s headline (below) is clear: it’s framing is designed to be negative. However the article is free of any evidence from Mr Leonard in support of his contention.
‘Scottish Government pandemic response not facing enough scrutiny from MSPs, says Richard Leonard
The Scottish Labour leader said MSPs were not being given enough opportunities to question the fight against coronavirus.’
Candidly, it is too easy to refute Mr Leonard’s claim by using information from the Scottish Parliament’s website – unless of course Mr Leonard or the Daily Record wish to specify what is and is not in their view the appropriate benchmark for ‘enough opportunities to question’. And that benchmark they have failed to provide.
The Parliament website lists all active parliamentary committees and their recent/current business agendas. This includes the specific, focused Covid-19 committee which has already convened seven meetings. It also lists the other parliamentary committees that have addressed Covid-19 matters of relevance to their own remit. A search of the Parliament’s website reveals that 12 individual committees have addressed Covid-19 matters on at least one sitting.
In addition there have been c. 11 First Minister Questions sessions since mid-February, including extended sessions. In addition there have been opportunities for ’topical questions’ and ‘urgent questions’ put to government ministers to answer.
There is also a lengthy archived account now of debates in the Holyrood chamber that addressed Covid-19 related matters, numbering c. 25 at least.
In response a Scottish Government spokesperson states: ”Ministers across all portfolios have continued to put themselves forward for committee appearances to ensure legislation and decisions are properly scrutinised as we navigate our way through and out of the coronavirus pandemic, and are making every effort to maximise time in the parliamentary chamber to devote to the issue.” The record of parliamentary business posted online by the Holyrood authorities supports the government spokesperson’s account.
So it is incumbent on Mr Leonard to justify why ‘accountability’ – something important to our democracy – has been deficient. Quality political journalism on such an important subject would do more than simply quote an opposition politician’s claim: the journalist surely should ask even just one question of Mr Leonard in order to elicit evidence to justify his claim. This is not ‘rocket science’!