ANAS Sarwar has claimed the SNP have taken spin and secrecy “to a whole other level” as he unveiled Scottish Labour’s plans to reform Holyrood.

The Scottish Labour leader said the Edinburgh Parliament was being “dragged down by SNP sleaze”, accusing Nicola Sturgeon’s party of fostering a culture of secrecy.

Admitting New Labour “hadn’t been perfect” when it came to spin and deception, Sarwar said the Scottish Parliament was no longer functioning properly because of the SNP government.

The SNP have hit back at his accusations, saying he would rather "side with the Tories" than "stand up for the people of Scotland". 

Unveiling new proposals to the media on Wednesday morning, the Glasgow MSP pledged a Scottish Labour government in Holyrood would work urgently to reform the Parliament.

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The Labour Party became synonymous with spin from the mid-80s onwards, with some of its famous spin doctors becoming infamous for their slick style within government after the party gained power in 1997.

The release of the “Dodgy Dossier” – a file released to the media justifying the invasion of Iraq on what was sexed-up to make the case for war stronger – culminated in a scandal which ultimately resulted in the resignation of notorious Labour spinner Alastair Campbell.

Sarwar said: “I don’t think that any political party should pretend its record is perfect.

“The Labour Party created the Scottish Parliament, the Labour Party passed FOI legislation, the Labour Party had, I think half the number of ministers we have just now, we had significantly less special advisers, we had significantly less press officers.

“For all the criticism of those New Labour years in terms of control-freakery, I think the SNP have taken it to a whole other level.

“The level of control-freakery, the level of arrogance, the level of dictation, the level of bullying, the level of silence that they have risen to, I think, is absolutely incredible.

“I actually think that there will come a point in the future when people look back on this and see it for what it was – and that was a deliberate attempt to try and manipulate our systems, to try and shut down debate, shut down argument. And who lost out? The Scottish public.

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“That’s not me saying previous governments were perfect, but I’m more interested in future governments than previous governments.”

The attack on the First Minister and her party came amid a series of scandals within both the SNP and the Conservative Party which have seen both accused of promoting MPs to senior party roles despite being aware of sexual misconduct claims against them.

Sarwar accused the SNP of operating a “double standard” on conduct and highlighted the party calling for the details of a bullying investigation into Priti Patel to be revealed while blocking the findings of a similar case involving former SNP minister Fergus Ewing.

The Scottish Government has insisted the results of the Ewing investigation cannot be published due to data protection rules.

He said the scandal involving Patrick Grady – who quit the SNP after he was found by a Commons probe to have groped a younger staff member – had “degraded” the party.

Labour’s plans to reform Holyrood are wide-reaching and some are likely to require the consent of the UK Parliament, such as their new proposal to introduce Westminster-style parliamentary privilege, which defends MPs against criminal proceedings for things said in parliament.

Sarwar said the absence of this mechanism had prevented the Scottish Parliament from adequately scrutinising issues such as the Scottish Government’s handling of sexual harassment claims against Alex Salmond and deaths at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

Scottish Labour’s Baroness Katy Clark – who Sarwar said had “suspended” her membership of the House of Lords on becoming an MSP last year – is also planning on introducing a bill to reform Freedom of Information laws in Scotland to ensure greater transparency.

Among other proposals were plans to strengthen the role of committees in holding the Government to account by changing how convenors are elected.

He said the current system meant they were susceptible to the influence of their party, restricting their scrutiny role. 

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The party would also seek to stop MSPs from “double jobbing” – though Sarwar conceded the details of how this would be policed were still to be worked out.

He said his preferred system would allow politicians such as the SNP’s Emma Harper to take part in the vaccine roll out but stop Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross from working as an MSP, an MP and a football referee.

And in an echo of a Scottish Tory pledge, Sarwar also proposed introducing a system to allow MSPs found guilty of an offence or suspended from parliament for misconduct to be ousted from office.

Ross’s party called this “Mackay’s law” after the shamed former finance secretary Derek Mackay who resigned after he was found to have bombarded a schoolboy with inappropriate text messages.

The proposals are framed as a way of boosting Scotland's democracy while remaining in the Union. 

But Paul McLennan, SNP MSP for East Lothian, said: "Anas Sarwar has shown he'd rather side with the Tories in their Trump-like denial of Holyrood's cast iron mandate for delivering a referendum than stand up for the people of Scotland.

"Scottish Labour continues to be nothing more than a powerless and pointless branch office of Westminster Labour, taking their lead from Starmer's obsession to mimick Tory policies - from backing Brexit, defending Westminster’s erosion of devolution to endorsing toxic Westminster cuts.

"The people of Scotland deserve far better a future controlled by barely distinguable Westminster parties intent on ignoring Scotland’s government and the wishes of the Scottish people - and they will have a chance of securing that better, wealthier and fairer future as an independent country in a referendum.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "The Scottish Government is committed to openness and transparency and recognises that scrutiny is the bedrock that underlies effective governance. It is for the Scottish Parliament to consider matters relevant to its internal operation, including its mechanisms for holding the Government to account.

“Scotland already has the most open and far-reaching FOI legislation in the UK, and we are currently considering extending it even further.

“Independent advisers are already reviewing the Ministerial Code and its relationship with the new procedure for handling complaints about Ministers in order to better balance the public interest with considerations of privacy and confidentiality, and to ensure that there is full confidence in the process. Any necessary changes to the Ministerial Code are for the First Minister to consider and will be made in due course.

“The Scottish Government’s communications department supports the provision of information to the public such as vital public health messages, promotion of Covid-19 and flu vaccination campaigns and advice on help with energy bills and the cost of living crisis. 

“Our news service functions round the clock, providing responses to journalists’ enquiries seven days a week, ensuring newspapers and broadcasters can access information on behalf of the public and hold the government accountable.”