By Bob Duncan
There is embarrassment at the Scotland Office after it emerged that the department has not been trusted by the UK Government to take the lead on a single one of the thirteen workstreams UK Civil Servants are preparing as they try to make a case against independence.
In June this year, the UK coalition government announced that it would be funding its civil servants to create a series of 13 ‘papers’ on a series of subjects. Each it is claimed, will make a case against Scottish Independence, but from a different perspective.
The plan is for one paper to be released each month during 2013, in an attempt to convince Scots to vote No in the 2014 independence referendum.
A response to a Freedom of Information request reveals that despite the Scotland Office describing its role as ensuring Scotland’s voice “is heard at the highest level of Whitehall”, it has not been given responsibility for leading on even a single UK Government workstream relating to an independent Scotland.
Instead, the 13 workstreams will each be allocated to individual UK departments, including one on cultural heritage. Even this obviously cross-departmental topic seems to have been deemed too important to have been entrusted to the Scotland Office.
In the reply, a Scotland Office official wrote: “The Scotland analysis is broken down into 13 work streams. The work is looking at legal and constitutional issues, economic performance, currency and monetary policy, tax and spending, financial services and banking, debt and borrowing, EU and international, energy, defence and security, welfare, cultural heritage, borders and immigration, and business.
“The Scotland Office is closely involved in each of these work streams, but is not the designated lead for any of the work streams, which are each led by the UK Government department that has principal policy responsibility.”
While in opposition, current Scottish Secretary Michael Moore MP argued that the Scotland Office should be abolished, this vote of no confidence in the body he heads has led to renewed questions over the purpose and usefulness of the department, which costs the Scottish taxpayer over £10 million per annum to run.
It also follows news that the Scotland Office has been advertising for a controversial £50,000 per annum spin doctor to help them make the case against independence.
Commenting, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said:
“This really is embarrassing for the Scotland Office. For the UK Government not to trust them to lead on even one aspect of the anti-independence case they are attempting to build suggests that they don’t have much confidence in the Scotland Office’s abilities.
“While we have long said that the Scotland Office serves little purpose, it seems that view is also shared by the Westminster Government.
“If the Scotland Office’s civil servants are not taking the lead in any of these areas of work, then what exactly is it they are there for?
“For them to have been relegated to sitting on the sidelines doesn’t say much for their own vaunted claims that they are ‘heard at the highest level of Whitehall’.
“Perhaps before Westminster rushes to slash Scotland’s budget again, they would be better advised to look at the cost of a Whitehall department which they cannot even trust to do this kind of work.”