Regular readers of the No Thanks! blog may remember I wrote about The case of the missing ministerial diary in June. My concern was that a gap in Humza Yousaf’s ministerial diary had been spotted for the period he was in Qatar in May 2013. The gap had been identified on 4 June and publication of the information promised ‘within 24 hours.’ Time passed and on 17 June the Scottish Government hoped to update the list ‘soon.’ By 29 June it still hadn’t and I tried to reconstruct a list of his engagements from other information available. Finally, after continued silence I submitted a Freedom of Information request on 7 July asking for a list of his engagements. My answer came today, the last day of the statutory period allowed for FOI answers. That’s two calendar months from the very day that the information had originally been promised for. Phew.
The answer came with the statement that
All of the information you have requested is publicly available online at: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0048/00481968.pdf . Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you.
This is a little disingenuous since the information was not there before and I am sure that it is only my FOI request (and others?) that produced it – on the last day the Scottish Government were legally bound to do so.
Anyhow, to save you clicking through and searching a long document that covers engagements for all ministers in May 2013, here is what it says for 19-21 May:
I have no beef with any of this. My forensic skills and resources, if I had any doubts about the list (which I don’t), do not extend to researching the individuals and organisations mentioned. Maybe others have those skills if they’re so minded. It all looks kosher to me (probably not the best turn of phrase in the circumstances but it’ll serve).
So no major scandal, or any, that I can see, although quite what much of this progressed for the benefit of Scotland is another matter. The minister was clearly very busy in Qatar and I do wonder, a little cynically (because I am), whether the diary has been completed for that period in rather more detail than is the usual practice. But at least the information is now where it should have been two years ago..
My larger complaint, as I’ve said on a number of occasions (for example in the run-up to the referendum) is the SNP’s pursuit of a de facto foreign policy when external affairs are a reserved matter for Westminster. Nevertheless, and presumably under the banner of trade and culture the UK government is clearly accepting of all this, to judge by the minister’s meetings in Qatar with the British ambassador, British Council representative and a UK trade official. I’m not sure I’d be quite as forbearing.
There were other missing gaps in Hamza Yousaf’s diary in 2013 all due, the government originally said, to a ‘clerical error.’ I am not going to pursue them but hope they have also now made the information concerned ‘publicly available online [and] reasonably accessible.’