By Sean Martin
The SNP has asked for clarity after a tense exchange during a Scottish Government committee in which a civil servant working for the Scotland Office appeared to admit briefing several foreign embassies on the UK Government’s stance on independence.
Deputy director (corporate and constitution) of the Scotland Office, Chris Flatt, told Holyrood’s Europe and External Relations Committee that he had spoken to “dozens of embassies” around the world on the issue of Scottish independence and the UK Government’s position on it.
The admission comes after several reports stated that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had been warning foreign diplomats in London about the hazards of Scottish independence. After a request was made under the Freedom of Information Act, material was released which showed Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and Europe Minister David Lidington briefed members of the Diplomatic Corps on independence before the publication of a UK Government report.
Mr Flatt, who told of discussions with officials from countries including Russia, America and Italy, insisted he was always careful to mention that the Scottish Government itself carried a different view on independence.
He went on to say that the Russian diplomat he briefed had “expressed great surprise at the Herald story about what the Russian news agency had put forward”. This was in reference to the January article in the Sunday Herald which carried details that Russian news agency Itar-Tass were reporting Prime Minister David Cameron had sought the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin in his fight against Scottish independence.
According to the Russian news agency, a government official had indicated that: “Great Britain is extremely interested in the support of Russia, as holder of the G8 presidency, in two vital areas in 2014: the Afghan pull-out and the Scottish independence referendum.”
Mr Putin then appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show in which he was asked about Scottish independence. Viewers heard the Russian President say: “I believe one should not forget that being part of a single, strong state has some advantages and one should not overlook this,”
Christina McKelvie MSP, convenor of the Europe Committee, pressed Mr Flatt for details of the meetings. He re
sponded that he was often approached and asked what the position of the UK Government was and that he had briefed several embassies on the matter.
Mr Flatt added: “I’ve had that conversation with Russian officials, American, Canadian, Belgian, Philippines, Kurdistan, Italians – I mean it goes on because everyone’s interested.”
The official was then cut off from relaying further details by Carmichael, who said he didn’t know “that that’s really something for us to give an answer to”.
Ms McKelvie, MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, has called on both the Scottish Office and the Foreign Office to “come clean and publish the details of all of their briefings” and said the conduct of the Scottish Office demonstrated why Scotland should speak for itself globally.
She added: “Prime Minister David Cameron continually refuses to debate the First Minister in front of the people of Scotland, but he is content for his government to go around the world talking down Scotland’s future behind closed doors. This speaks volumes about the Westminster approach to the referendum.
“This is the kind of behaviour that shows exactly why the people of Scotland can, should and must vote to become an independent country and represent ourselves on the world stage,” Ms McKelvie continued. “With polls showing support for Yes at a record high, people are coming to the conclusion that Scotland’s future lies with Yes.”