An official response to a Freedom of Information request has revealed that the head of the anti-independence Better Together campaign, Labour MP Alistair Darling, has had several unofficial meetings with the UK Treasury’s top Civil Servant.
Newsnet Scotland can reveal that since January 2012, Mr Darling has met with Sir Nicholas Macpherson, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, several times.
The Labour MP heads the Better Together campaign which has brought the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems together in an alliance against Scottish independence. However, according to an official document seen by Newsnet Scotland, since he became head of Better Together, Mr Darling and his former special adviser, have both met with Sir Nicholas on more than one occasion.
In response to the FoI request, a Treasury official wrote: “Information relating to individuals’ social activities is outside the scope of the Act. However I can confirm that Sir Nicholas Macpherson meets Alistair Darling MP and Catherine Macleod socially from time to time.”
Catherine Macleod is a former special adviser to Mr Darling and a close friend of his wife. She was specially recruited in 2007 by Mr Darling himself when she was Political Editor at the Herald and he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In an article published in May last year, Ms Macleod wrote: “Absolute trust had to be at the heart of the relationship between us. I was his eyes and ears inside and outside the Treasury.
She added: “From day one, Alistair signalled strongly that I was to be trusted and could be party to sensitive policy discussions.”
The revelation will raise questions as to why the Head of the UK Treasury feels it appropriate to be meeting both the head of the Better Together campaign and his former special adviser, neither of whom are UK Government Ministers.
The social meetings between Mr Darling and Sir Nicholas also appear to have taken place around the time that the top Civil Servant was appointed as head of the UK Government’s special anti-independence task force.
On October 30th, two weeks after the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement, it emerged that Sir Nicholas had been recruited by UK PM David Cameron to co-ordinate thirteen Whitehall departments in an attack against Scottish independence. The team has been tasked with producing one pro-Union document a month which will seek to undermine the Yes campaign.
Sir Nicholas’ own Treasury Department will investigate five areas covering Scotland’s economic performance – currency and monetary policy, tax and spending, financial services and banking, debt and borrowing.
The day after the announcement, it emerged that the Scottish government’s top civil servant Sir Peter Housden had been excluded from Whitehall meetings he had previously attended.
Sir Peter was attacked in the press and labelled “Salmond’s nark” by un-named Whitehall sources.
The admission of unofficial ‘social’ meetings between two men who head anti-independence groups and who once between them controlled the UK Treasury, will fuel speculation that Mr Darling is using his relationship with Sir Nicholas in order to help co-ordinate Better Together and the UK Government’s anti-independence message.