With a referendum coming closer, Whitehall’s position on the question of Scottish Independence is becoming clearer and clearer. In a move sparking anger across both sides of the debate, senior Scottish civil servants are to be aggressively kept out of the loop by their English counterparts.
The civil servants have been instructed to make sure that no part of the referendum debate is discussed in front of their Scottish colleagues in official meetings, in particular Scotland’s most senior civil servant Sir Peter Housden. They have resorted to organising backroom meetings to discuss official policy in, meaning that Scottish civil servants are left completely left out of Whitehall’s policies and plans. This has consequences above and beyond independence, St Andrew’s House is completely in the dark about English planning, and so will be finding themselves on the back foot about plans from south of the border, hindering their own decision making.
This dispute has its origins in a controversy last October surrounding Sir Peter Housden himself. He stands accused of compromising the impartiality of the Civil Service by ‘Going native’ (a colonial term that has attracted controversy in itself) and lending his support to Scottish independence. The Scottish Government issued a statement saying he was ‘simply stating that if there is a positive result in a referendum, negotiations and legislation will follow’. So one could hardly accuse him of donning woad and screaming ‘FREEDOM!’ just yet. However, this situation has led to other civil servants claiming they cannot have ‘free and frank discussions’ in front of Sir Peter on Scottish questions.
It’s interesting to note that, according to senior Whitehall sources, the instruction may well have come from David Cameron himself, although the government has denied this. The civil service’s head honcho and the Cabinet Secretary issued a joint statement outright denying that Sir Peter or indeed any other Scottish civil servants are being kept out of the loop. They also took a sojourn to Edinburgh to meet staff and, notably, Alex Salmond, although the issue apparently wasn’t discussed.
This move doesn’t bode well for the upcoming vote, as an increasingly divided civil service could only mean a less and less effective government in Scotland, and is essentailly just punishing Scots for sins we’re as yet only thinking about voting on.