Scottish independence: Scottish Government's civil servants must abandon their nationalist tendencies following Supreme Court referendum ruling – Struan Stevenson

Scotland’s civil servants have allowed themselves to become fully captivated by the SNP’s obsession with independence.

The clear-cut ruling of the Supreme Court against the Scottish Government’s plans for an independence referendum means the civil service has to drop all such work and return to complete impartiality.

More than £20 million of taxpayers’ money and 25 civil servants had been dedicated to Indyref2. However, following the court’s decision it was a relief to see John Swinney dump the £20 million pledge in his budget statement. But he should also have axed the £9m allocated to the eight pretend ‘embassies’ the nationalists run overseas.

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The Permanent Secretary, Scotland’s most senior civil servant, must restore public confidence in the impartiality and neutrality of the 7,000 staff he leads. The civil service code states that staff must not “act in a way that is determined by party political considerations or use official resources for party political purposes”. Propaganda and SNP hype for separation should be outlawed. If the First Minister wants to pursue her political campaign to break up the UK, then it has to be funded by her party.

It was a great relief to hear from the unanimous Supreme Court ruling that Scotland is not a former colony and that Scots are neither oppressed nor denied meaningful access to government. Not that it will have convinced Nicola Sturgeon.

However, Scotland has had enough of constitutional arguments. We’ve suffered the quarrels and divisions of the 2014 independence debate and the traumas of Brexit. We’ve endured two years of pandemic lockdown and now we are faced with a record-breaking cost-of-living crisis, an NHS crisis, mounting drug deaths, spiralling energy costs, strikes, a failing education system and, to top it all off, a war in Ukraine.

Surely the time has come for the Scottish government to focus on the welfare of the people they are supposed to represent, rather than the constant, mind-numbing demand for independence. If the SNP are so certain of majority backing for Indyref2, then they can ask their supporters to put their money where their mouths are and donate the necessary cash to cover the campaign costs.

For our First Minister to declare that she will turn the next general election into a de-facto independence referendum is ludicrous and highlights how out of touch with reality she has become. It is the height of arrogance for Ms Sturgeon to dictate how a UK general election should be run. Poll after poll has shown that the majority of Scots do not want another independence referendum next year or in the near future; that’s not their priority.

Scotland's civil servants need to demonstrate their impartiality on the independence question (Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)Scotland's civil servants need to demonstrate their impartiality on the independence question (Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Scotland's civil servants need to demonstrate their impartiality on the independence question (Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

They want the Scottish Government to focus on the economy and on public services which are under relentless pressure. They want the spotlight to be on jobs, growth, education and the NHS. The Scottish public want politicians who care about their welfare and the day-to-day problems that affect them, not for those who support only a single-issue, constitutional pledge on independence.

The tired old nationalist argument that Brexit has radically altered Scotland’s prospects since 2014 and that only separation from the UK and rejoining the EU can restore economic prosperity simply doesn’t wash. If the SNP believe that Brexit created trade barriers with our European neighbours, what on earth do they think Scexit will do? We would have to erect a trade barrier with our major trading partner, England.

Scotland already has one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world. Severing the Union which has served Scotland well for more than 300 years would be a tragic error. Ending the freedom of movement of people, goods and services between Scotland and the rest of the UK would be economically and socially crippling. Terminating the fiscal transfer of billions annually from Whitehall to Scotland would be foolish in the extreme. But if Ms Sturgeon thinks she can persuade a majority to vote for economic hardship then she better start raising party funds to pay for it.

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The SNP need to be honest about what independence would really mean. They must stop the pretence that independence would come without any discernible hardship. Secession would mean a loss to Scotland of billions annually. It would mean monetary dislocation on a huge scale. Scotland would suffer austerity and economic hardship for a decade or more. To pretend otherwise is dishonest.

The UK Government should highlight the Union’s positive advantages. It’s hard to imagine a political union with another country that could be more advantageous, with our nationhood retained, political control over domestic essentials, sovereignty shared and international influence enhanced. We must re-emphasise the importance of the UK single market where we do 63 per cent of our trade, more than with the rest of the world combined.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has confirmed Simon Case, head of the UK civil service, will now, following the Supreme Court ruling, examine whether Scottish civil servants should be allowed to work on an independence referendum. Mr Jack said: “I think people in Scotland would be rightly concerned that there continues to be hundreds of thousands of pounds, indeed millions of pounds annually spent by civil servants, at the direction of the First Minister in the Scottish Government, on what is now a party election issue, because the First Minister wants to make this a single-issue election at the next general election.”

The civil service code sets out the expected standard of behaviour of Scottish Government staff, focusing on integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. The fact that the civil service appears ready to carry out the instructions of the SNP without demur either points to a deficit of quality among senior officials, or direct politicisation. Scotland’s civil servants should never forget that they may have to work for another party one day and that day may come sooner than they think.

Struan Stevenson, a former member of the European Parliament, is chief executive of pro-Union business group Scottish Business UK



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