At least 500 officials in Michael Gove’s department will be relocated by 2024, with senior staff and ministers all now preparing to spend “some time” in Scotland.
In a letter to staff, Cabinet Office permanent Secretary Alex Chishold said: “As a department with a key responsibility for the union, it is particularly appropriate that we move to strengthen our presence and commitment in Scotland.”
The Scotsman understands it would complement the new Queen Elizabeth House building near the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh for the Scottish Secretary.
That will feature senior officials from 15 Whitehall departments as the UK Government seeks to work more closely with Scottish business.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Decision makers should be close to the people they serve and we want to see opportunity, jobs and investment fairly distributed across the country.
“That’s why we’ve committed to relocating Civil Service roles out of central London, building on the thousands of civil servants we already have working across the United Kingdom.”
It is the latest Whitehall department to see staff moved under the UK Government’s promise to “level up” jobs and opportunities across the UK.
There are plans for new offices for the Treasury in Darlington, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are moving to Wolverhampton, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is going to Manchester.
Assistant general secretary of the FDA union that represents senior civil servants Amy Leversidge, backed the move.
She said: “While the Cabinet Office have confirmed that there will be senior civil servant roles based in Glasgow, they have only committed that ministers will ‘spend regular time’ there. This isn’t good enough.
“There must also be a ministerial presence in Glasgow, otherwise all the decision-making will continue to be in London and this will act like a gravitational pull for the senior civil servants to be pulled back there too.”
Ministers hope opening the headquarters will not only bring more economic prosperity but also give a new perspective to policy making.
One official said the proposal would “bring the engine room of the UK government to Scotland”.
The SNP claimed the move meant the Scotland Office was “little more than a Tory propaganda unit.”
Keith Brown MSP said: “The fact Boris Johnson and his Tory colleagues are clearly spending so much time discussing how they can combat support for independence shows they are preparing for a referendum they know is inevitable in the face of a Holyrood majority for one.“Bluntly, they wouldn’t be spending so much time on the issue and relocating Whitehall staff to Scotland if they thought their Trump-like bid to defy democracy could hold.”
It comes ahead of Michael Gove visiting Glasgow next week, his first trip north of the border since the establishment of the Cabinet Union Strategy Committee.
Tasked with setting the Government's "strategic agenda" for keeping the UK together, Mr Gove and Chancellor Rishi Sunak will attend the meetings, along with the secretaries for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost.
The PM has repeatedly stressed he wants to “level up” all parts of the UK, and last month announced a £4.8 billion “level up” fund to be distributed across every region and country in Britain.
The news comes on the eve of Scottish Conservatives’ conference, as it faces a battle for second place at Holyrood’s May elections.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross will speak at the event, as will the PM, with the former standing with the slogan: “End Division. No Referendum. Rebuild Scotland.”
The PM is expected to rule out another independence referendum during an address to the Scottish Conservative Party conference on Sunday, arguing that holding a vote during the Covid-19 pandemic would be “reckless”.
A UK Government source said: “Absolutely, now is not the time for a reckless independence referendum. We need to be pulling together.
“We’re not having a referendum in the middle of a pandemic.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s party has made clear it will use an SNP victory in the Holyrood elections as a mandate to push for another ballot on the future of the UK.