Scotland's top civil servant warned over independence spending

Scotland's top civil servant warned over independence spending

November 28, 2022

Scotland’s top civil servant is warned over signing off Nicola Sturgeon’s £20m spending on independence planning after Supreme Court ruled she CAN’T hold referendum without Westminster approval

  • Scottish mandarin urged to seek ministerial direction on independence spend
  • Nicola Sturgeon’s government has been planning for breaking away from UK 
  • Supreme Court ruled that Westminster’s consent needed for new referendum

Scotland’s top civil servant has been warned over signing off taxpayer funding for independence planning after the Supreme Court ruled Nicola Sturgeon cannot go ahead without Westminster approval.

The Scottish Tories have written to permanent secretary John-Paul Marks cautioning that public money should not be spent on ‘party propaganda’.

They insisted that Mr Marks should clarify if the spending is ‘lawful’ and seek a ‘ministerial direction’ on whether it should go ahead.

The UK government is believed to be seeking Whitehall advice after it emerged 24 officials have been working on the updated prospectus for independence, with their salaries costing up to £1.5million.

Donald Cameron, constitution spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said: ‘Given that the Supreme Court ruled that ‘the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence’, there is now significant uncertainty as to whether the forecast use of £20million of taxpayer money on an issue that is not within the devolved competence of the Scottish Parliament is lawful.

‘I am therefore seeking urgent clarification on whether this remains the position of the Scottish Government, and also to request that you seek a ‘ministerial direction’ to settle this matter.’

UK ministers are seeking advice on whether Nicola Sturgeon’s independence drive using public money is unlawful

Lord Reed (left) delivered the ruling of the Supreme Court last week. Rishi Sunak (right) has declined to give permission for another independence referendum

After sending the letter to the senior civil servant, Mr Cameron said he struggled to see ‘any legal clarification for ministers to continue to lavish’ the estimated £20million.

He added: ‘That’s why I have written to the permanent secretary for clarification. I believe he has a legal duty to seek ‘ministerial direction’ on this because it looks as if the Scottish Government is allocating public money to something that is beyond its legislative competence.

‘Nicola Sturgeon said her next step, after the Supreme Court’s judgment, was to try to turn the next general election into a ‘de facto referendum’.

‘But that’s SNP strategy as a party – not a Scottish Government policy. There is no excuse for impartial civil servants to be deployed on party propaganda this way, and no reason for taxpayers’ money to be wasted on it.

Last week, Ms Sturgeon refused to commit to reallocating a £20million fund set aside for a referendum.

A group of businessmen has obtained legal advice suggesting it may be unlawful to use public cash on independence when Holyrood does not have the power to hold a referendum on the issue.

The group, led by care home tycoon Robert Kilgour, argued it is ‘scandalous’ that public funds and civil servants’ time are being used to draw up the case for independence rather than SNP money.

They have obtained initial legal advice suggesting the case is arguable in court.

A leading KC has now been instructed to set out options, including a possible judicial review in the Court of Session. The case is set to focus on the claim that use of public resources on independence by SNP ministers is ‘ultra vires’ – beyond their legal power or authority.

Mr Kilgour, chairman of Scottish Business UK, said: ‘Nicola Sturgeon is using public taxpayers’ money and civil servants for party purposes. We’re seeking legal advice on the options in front of us. Enough is enough.

‘I waited to see what her and the SNP response is and it seems to be ‘full steam ahead’ on spending public money and using civil servants on what is, from the Supreme Court ruling, quite clearly party campaigning activity, not something that is within their remit as an elected government to do.

‘It is absolutely scandalous that they are doing this. It is arrogance beyond belief and is a complete insult to Scottish taxpayers.’

The Government has already published three Building a New Scotland papers setting out the case for independence. Publishing costs so far are £18,993 for the first and £10,034 for the second. The cost of the third has not yet been revealed.

James Mitchell, professor of policy at Edinburgh University, told the Sunday Times: ‘It is quite possible that in taking this case before the Supreme Court, the SNP Government has shot itself in the foot by making officials less willing to cross the line between party and government business.’

A Government spokesman said that ‘in light of majority support’ at the Scottish parliament for a referendum, it ‘will continue to set out, through the Building a New Scotland prospectus series, what could be done with the full powers of independence’.

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