How much faith can the broad public have in civil service impartiality in the run-up to the referendums on Scottish independence and membership of the European Union?
It is just as important to consider their role in the negotiations that might follow a Yes vote in September’s poll.
In the final analysis, it is the mandarins, not the politicians, who have the information that guides public policy. It is their thoughts and deliberations that will, in the main, determine the circumstances under which Scotland may become autonomous.
In that sense David Maddox focuses on a crucial point about how we are in fact governed (Inside Westminster, 6 May).
Politicians at senior level can be guided by advisers, but how powerful is their impact in the face of a well-oiled government machine? Alastair Campbell had a reputation for being the power behind the throne during the heyday of Tony Blair’s governments. But that was arguably the exception to the rule.
How the oil revenues and national debt are apportioned, how pensions are determined, how citizenship is defined, will all rest on the determination and agility of highly professional people that the public will never see or meet or elect.
When and if those vital independence negotiations begin, that same public will be entitled to ask which side they are on, what code of conduct they operate under, and what internal divisions there were over what advice should be given.
Their role at a critical point in history should not be underestimated or undervalued.