Top civil servants plan for break-up of the UK

THE operations of Scotland's secretive top civil servants have been laid bare in new documents that show they believe "conflict and confrontation" should be at the heart of their dealings with Westminster, and that they are already working towards a more powerful Scottish state.

A leaked minute of a meeting of the Scottish Government's leading civil servants shows that the SNP's goal of independence has now permeated across the administration's decision-making, revealing how even future spending decisions must "meet the criteria of preparing Scotland to be a sustainable independent country".

The documents also show how civil servants are expectant of either more powers or full independence, declaring that even if the SNP's Referendum Bill falls in parliament, the work they are doing on independence will be "solid groundwork for the future".

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Critics last night said the documents suggested that civil servants had effectively signed up to a more powerful Scottish state, without the consultation of the public.

The revelations are contained in a minute of a meeting from April that was headed by the Scottish Government's top civil servant, Sir John Elvidge.

In a section entitled "Doing Business with the UK" the administration's head of external support Tim Barraclough lays out to colleagues Edinburgh's new modus operandi for dealing with Whitehall, now that an SNP administration is in charge.

"FM (First Minister] has said that the relationship with the UK government is one of the key relationships that we have and that it will continue to be important even when Scotland is independent … Essential to get that relationship right. 4 modes of engagement: confrontation and conflict; competing; co-existing; and collaboration. Need to use a blend of all strategies in order to get best outcome for Scotland."

He then goes on to refer to the appointment of Jim Murphy as Scottish Secretary, noting that he "appears to be engaging in a political strategy of competing with the SG."

Mr Barraclough notes: "There is an emerging view from some parts of Westminster that the best way to undermine the strive for independence in Scotland is for devolution to work.

"This offers the opportunity for the SG to make progress in a number of areas where there has previously been lack of progress."

The department head adds that the administration should take political advantage of apparent splits within Whitehall. He declares: "Conflict within UK government departments is also prevalent – at a political level the SG may wish to capitalise on this."

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The same meeting also includes a lengthy discussion about the National Conversation – the series of papers, meetings and discussion documents that SNP ministers have laid out leading up to the publication of their Referendum Bill later this year.

Ministers have claimed previously that only a small number of civil servants were involved in the programme, but the minute shows there are no fewer than "14 workstreams, led by directors".

The papers show that civil servants are using the National Conversation to prepare their thinking and sharpen their policy ideas in the clear expectancy that more powers are heading their way.

In a section led by the administration's head of constitution, the minute records: "This work (on the National Conversation] tests our ability as an organisation to deliver for the current administration and, whatever the short-term parliamentary outcome, will be solid groundwork for the future."

The section also hears from one director who had spent time seeing how benefits and social support would work if run from Edinburgh.

And the papers also show clearly that civil servants working for the minority administration are keenly aware of the SNP's overall goal of secession from the UK.

Angiolina Foster, director of strategy, is recorded as declaring: "We need to ensure that the proposals we made will drive economic recovery, will shift resources towards achieving the purpose, fit the SG narrative and meet the criteria of preparing Scotland to be a sustainable independent country."

Last night, a Scottish Government spokesman said: "It's a statement of the obvious that the policy of the Scottish Government is independence and equality for Scotland, and we propose a referendum so that the people can choose Scotland's future in a democratic vote."

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Labour MSP Lord Foulkes yesterday said he had now written to the head of the UK civil service, Sir Gus O'Donnell, asking him to investigate partisanship in the Scottish civil service.

Yesterday, The Scotsman's sister paper Scotland on Sunday revealed that in the same document there were plans by the Scottish Government for 1.5 billion cuts and a tax hike, sparking a political row.

Labour finance spokesman Andy Kerr said: "This is an extraordinary revelation and blows open the SNP secret plan to cut and tax. Scotland's budget is going up by 700 million next year, but they are planning to cut 2bn from Scotland's public services."

However, a Scottish Government spokesman said the document referred to a routine discussion.

"Of course, it has been abundantly clear since last November that the UK Labour government are planning swingeing cuts in Scotland's budget, and we now know that our calculation of a 500m cut next year is correct," he said.

"Given that the latest GERS analysis shows Scotland in budget surplus – with a surplus of some 2.3bn in the past three years – the Westminster cuts reinforce the need for Scotland to become responsible for our own tax and spending with independence."