Keep civil service out of party politics

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AS CORRESPONDENCE to The Scotsman (Letters, 12, 13 December) indicates, it has taken some time for people to access, digest and evaluate the weighty volumes issued by the Scottish Government on 26 November on its proposed plans for independence.

There are numerous aspects of the documents that raise profound legal issues. Particularly worrying is the way that the papers mix proposals for constitutional change with party political propaganda. Civil servants who are supposed to be politically neutral appear to have been involved in an unpre-cedented way in preparing an election manifesto for a governing party to fight the Scottish Parliamentary elections of May 2016, whether or not the country is by then an independent state.

The current government was elected under the Scotland Act of 1998, the principles of which were approved by referendum the year before. Under these rules the government has no legal powers on constitutional change. The SNP achieved a majority of places in the Scottish Parliament in 2011 with about 45 per cent of the votes cast on a platform of holding a referendum on independence and that commitment is being respected. 

But preparing the case for an independent Scottish state is a very different matter from proposing policy for whatever government might come to power under such a scenario. If Scotland was independent, there is no way of knowing what policies the electorate might support and the government might enact. The policies proposed for an independent Scottish government in the white paper are party political and civil servants should not have been involved in framing these parts of what is now officially to be renamed the “guide” to independence.

Civil servants were rightly involved in helping coalition partners develop policies for coalitions that were being formed in previous devolved administrations after elections but they should have no role in sketching policies that theoretically might be followed by an independent Scottish Government.

The party political elements of the independence white paper are indications of worrying trends in ­Scottish Government and do not bode well for constitutional government in the aftermath of a possible Yes vote or the possible advent of independence.

Norman Bonney

Palmerston Place

Edinburgh

IN RESPONSE to the Scottish Government circular reminding us that the future of Scotland is in our hands, I was welcomed to Gatehouse library to find an El Dorado awaiting in the form of the 670-page pamphlet which reminded me of the last confidence trick, called the Darien Scheme, which bankrupted Scotland in 1699.

The promise of a fairer society was mentioned as often as the bedroom tax’s demise, which some may have considered had been devised to create a fairer division of available accommodation.

“The nuclear deterrent was an affront to basic decency” was self-evident but was a fact of life which had worked and worked well for the past 70 years, but Scotland would do without it. That will demand mature consideration of the Roman adage “If you want to avoid a war, prepare for war.”

Scotland’s future has for many years been the subject of mature reflection by its citizens, especially in 1707 when a great debate took place and the patriotic Scots decided the best future for Scotland and its young men of fighting age was the formation of the United Kingdom from which Scotland blossomed in the great enlightenment.

Today we must ask: “Why all this fuss?” Scotland has the best of both worlds, everything in the white paper and more – internal peace and unity. Bitter division could be caused among Scots by this act of sedition to our United Kingdom. Why bring Ulster to Scotland?

James Finlay

Gatehouse of Fleet

Kirkcudbrightshire

IT IS becoming increasingly clear that the Nationalist breakaway movement is cracking up under the strain of trying to keep a lot of plates spinning on sticks at the one time.

Understandably, they are faced with a resurgent UK with the fastest recovery rate among the world’s leading economies which is set to take over shortly as Europe’s second largest car manufacturer; which has the world’s second greatest “soft power”; and which came third in the Olympics last year.

When the message the SNP must try to get across to the people of Scotland is that the UK is broken and that setting sail in a sieve is a better plan, this must be very difficult.

However, can the SNP really persuade people of its vision of Scotland’s future when seen through the prism of increasing class sizes (despite assurances given by First Minister Alex Salmond to the Scottish Parliament that his government would not permit this) and fewer teachers; when repeated assurances about Scotland’s future status within the European Union are themselves repeatedly shown to be untrue and when a future, separate Scotland would single out English, Welsh and Northern Irish students alone for university fee payments from all the other nations in the EU?

It is worthy of note that the SNP administration will not do its best for Scotland’s children – and, on this occasion, is being quite open about it – because it does not want any economic benefit from suggested childcare measures it is perfectly capable of implementing right now to go to the Treasury. 

However, it is generally recognised that one thing would definitely go up in a separate Scotland, in the opinion of most Scots: taxes.

Andrew HN Gray

Craiglea Drive

Edinburgh

I BELIEVE it was William Hazlitt, the 19-century essayist, who likened the Tories and the Whigs of his era to two rival stagecoaches, charging up the turnpike, splattering each other with dirt and mud, their drivers lashing each other with their whips and their fellow travellers shouting abuse at each other.

But of course both stagecoaches were heading for exactly the same destination.

For Victorian Tories and Whigs, read modern Conservative and Labour and it is still a fair description of the current Westminster political scene. Fortunately, the people of Scotland will soon have the opportunity to chose an alternative to this sterile contest. I only hope they have the courage to head for a new destination.

Peter Craigie

East London Street

Edinburgh

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