I don’t care where Alex Salmond lays his head – but does he have to be so evasive about it?

The Benjamin HotelBuckwheat or memory foam, or water. Those are some of the pillows Alex Salmond could have had, according to the Telegraph when he stayed in New York’s Benjamin Hotel in 2007 when he was there on official business. But, do you know what? I’m not really that bothered. Yes, luxury hotel suites are expensive but in the world of international diplomacy and business, it’s pretty much par for the course. Sure, some people would be happier to see our politicians stay in a Bed and Breakfast with squeaky, staticky, purple nylon sheets and those duvets with flowers on that were so popular in the 70s, and a bit of thrift never goes amiss, but I’m not going to get in a lather about it.

Where it becomes problematic is when your innocent deputy tells Parliament that of course you wouldn’t be staying in such and such a luxury joint like your (from another party) predecessor did – when in fact, you did stay there in 2007.  A bit of me idly wonders if that suite had been booked for the First Minister ahead of the 2007 Scottish Parliament election.

Labour are trying to make hay out of Alex Salmond’s sumptuous accommodation choices in exactly the same way as the SNP used to make hay about Labour accommodation choices in the dim and distant past. Frankly, it’s tiresome, and they should stop. Johann Lamont ruined her chances at First Minister’s Questions last week by going on and on and on about it. It’s time to stop. The horse they are flogging is long past caring.

There is an issue, though, that is worth pursuing. That is the pattern that is emerging of the Scottish Government’s attitude towards the Freedom of Information laws. The Telegraph has spent six months trying to find out from the Scottish Government where Salmond stayed in Chicago. Officials’ time has been spent in arguing the toss with the Information Commissioner which, with a bit of digging, the information  could be found out by ringing the hotel.

So, couldn’t the Telegraph have done that in the first place? Well, maybe, but this isn’t the first time the Government has had a major attitude about Freedom of Information. Last year, the same paper spent 7 months trying to get information on a pair of tartan trousers brought for the First Minister on a trip to China because he’d forgotten his own. After all that time, it was discovered that he had only reimbursed the taxpayer for their cost after the FOI request had been received.

And of course, last year we discovered that the cost to the taxpayer of another tussle with the Freedom of Information laws, in this case trying to conceal that they had NOT taken legal advice on Eu membership, was a cool £20,000.

All of this obfuscation, this contempt for the law, is completely unnecessary. Where Salmond lays his head doesn’t really matter, but trying to hide it does. You have to wonder, if they can’t be open about something like accommodation, what else are they trying to hide?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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