SNP ministers accused of hiding preparations for Scottish independence referendum

The Scottish Government has been accused of attempting to hide its preparations for a second independence referendum after it redacted sections of a letter from its most senior civil servant to the Deputy First Minister.

(From left) Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
(From left) Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

The advice note from Leslie Evans to John Swinney and Economy Secretary Derek Mackay, has come to light after a Freedom of Information request by the Scottish Conservatives,

The letter, which had originally been redacted but has now been released in full, shows the government attempted to keep secret that preparing for a second independence vote, would impact on domestic priorities.

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Dated March 2017, it sees Ms Evans highlighting the need for “robust plans to ensure readiness to implement either outcome of the referendum” and the “focus and careful management” required to deal with a referendum at the same time as planning for Brexit.

She says: “We will continue to ensure that we are using the resources of the civil service to maximum effect and to identify where we see scope for deprioritisation of activity and essential augmentation of skills or capacity – which would be made necessary by Brexit, notwithstanding the decision on the referendum.”

Last night there were calls for the SNP to halt the civil service preparations and focus all government resources on key domestic priorities.

Scottish Conservative interim leader, Jackson Carlaw, said: “The SNP tried to keep this document under wraps and it’s clear why. It shows that delivering Nicola Sturgeon’s referendum on independence won’t just divide our country all over again, it will push your school, your local hospital and your high street to the back of the queue.”

He added: “With violent crime on the rise, hospital projects in tatters, and our education system failing to deliver, she needs to listen for once. Dump the independence referendum, and focus on what really matters.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Another referendum would be a huge distraction for the civil service, meaning services such as schools and hospitals would be neglected. We don’t need another Scexit referendum, we need a government that focuses on the day job it was elected to do.”

A spokesperson for Mr Russell said: “We have been entirely open about the fact we are preparing for a referendum, and this material shows how, regardless of that, it is Brexit which is impacting on day- to-day work in other areas. For the Tories – whose bosses at Westminster have been reduced to a zombie government with no legislative programme at all – their comments are borderline delusional.”