IN November 2014, just a few days before she became First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon made an important promise. For too long, she said, the conversation between the public and politicians had been all about stage-managed public appearances and she was determined to change that. Her government would be open, she said; it would stay close to the people it served, and, what’s more, Ms Sturgeon was prepared to promise that she would be the most accessible First Minister ever.

So what are we to make of the promise now? Four years on, what was supposed to be the most accessible government ever has been accused by the freedom watchdog of operating unjustifiable and significant delays to the freedom of information system. Daren Fitzhenry, the information commissioner, says SNP ministers have effectively been operating a twin-track system making it harder for journalists, MSPs and political researchers to get information. Mr Fitzhenry says FOI requests from these groups are subjected to an extra layer of clearance.

Journalists who have been using the FOI system have known about this shocking problem for a long time, with this newspaper revealing in May that requests were regularly being sent to special advisers and ministers for approval. Last year journalists from across the media also signed an open letter criticising the government’s approach, with MSPs subsequently condemning its conduct in an unanimous vote in parliament.

However, to have the concerns confirmed by the commissioner is profoundly troubling and requires immediate action by the Scottish Government. In May, the Government was still trying to pooh-pooh any suggestion that requests from journalists were treated differently but it now says it accepts the commissioner’s recommendations in full and will try to improve.

As the commissioner says, this must mean an end to treating journalists and others differently when processing requests – and the only way to achieve this is maybe to ensure an element of anonymity is introduced to the system. This will be embarrassing for the Government, and lead to the publication of some stories it would rather keep quiet – but that is the nature of the system. Freedom of information means the government cooperating even with those who may embarrass them.

The entire system also requires review. Journalists now know that what they suspected is true, but the concerns go further, with some organisations wrongly informing the public they do not hold data when in fact they do. The Government will now prepare an action plan on the back of the commissioner’s report, but it should go further and order a review of FOI as a whole. FOI has to work for journalists, but it should mean openness for all. The Government must now tell us how it will live up to those promises Nicola Sturgeon made in 2014.