SNP calls for civil service impartiality probe

Sir Nicholas Macpherson, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. Picture: PA
Sir Nicholas Macpherson, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. Picture: PA
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THE SNP has demanded an inquiry into an alleged breach of civil service impartiality after reports that the chief mandarin at the Treasury said it was dropped for the referendum.

Speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Strand Group in a lecture at the Treasury entitled “The Treasury and the Union”, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the permanent secretary to the Treasury, reportedly said that in such an “extreme” case as last year’s referendum, the normal rules of civil service impartiality “do not apply”.

The remarks are the latest concern that civil service impartiality was breached by both the UK and Scottish governments during the independence referendum.

The Scottish permanent secretary Sir Peter Housden, who has just announced he is to step down, was accused by pro-UK supporters of dropping impartiality in favour of a Yes vote.

The concerns led to an inquiry by the Commons public administration committee last year.

The papers drawn up by the UK government to highlight why Scotland was better off in the UK and the UK was stronger with Scotland were coordinated by the Treasury and question marks were raised why Sir Nicholas made the unusual step of publicising his advice to the Chancellor that an independent Scotland should not be allowed to keep the pound.

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Following the reported comments this week, SNP Treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie has written to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the head of the civil service demanding an inquiry.

He said: “These comments are astounding.

“This is a very serious admission and it begs the question – when will this UK government next abandon impartiality? We expect the highest standards from senior civil servants. With this admission, it is clear they have fallen short.

“The civil service code states that as a civil servant, you ‘are expected to carry out your role with dedication and a commitment to the Civil Service and its core values: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality,’ which is ‘acting solely according to the merits of the case and serving equally well governments of different political persuasions’.

“At a time when the UK and Scottish Governments should be able to work in good faith on more powers, this raises serious questions about Scotland’s ability to have any confidence in the role of the Treasury.”

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