By Martin Kelly
The UK’s most senior Civil Servant has been pressurising businesses in an attempt at getting them to speak out against Scottish independence, the editor of the Financial Times has said.
Speaking on the Today Programme this morning, Financial Times editor Lionel Barber said business leaders hadn’t wanted to get involved in politics, but as polling day draws closer and the polls tighten: “Mr Cameron and the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has been on the phone saying, ‘will you please speak up?'”
Asked if he knew that was the case, Mr Barber replied: “We know they have, we know they have.”
The astonishing claims have prompted demands from the SNP for all communications between UK Government Civil Servants and those involved in any attempt to orchestrate anti-independence statements, to be disclosed.
Commenting on the developments, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:
“If true, the allegation that Sir Jeremy Heywood – Westminster’s most senior civil servant – is also involved in orchestrating scare stories is completely unacceptable. It is also further proof of the anti-independence plotting going on at senior levels of the UK Government.
“As a matter of the utmost urgency, the UK Government must fully disclose any involvement of the Treasury, civil servants and any other figures and departments involved before the people of Scotland head to the polls on Thursday.”
The allegation from the editor of one of the most respected financial outlets in the UK, that the civil service, which is obliged to be political neutral, has unfairly intervened in the independence debate will cause concern.
Only last week, Sir Jeremy Heywood denied there had been any breach of the Ministerial Code after it emerged the UK Treasury had leaked information to the BBC which said RBS was planning a contingency plan in the event of a Yes vote. The BBC reported that the bank would register its official office in London if Scots voted Yes – the bank was later forced to clarify that the move would not affect jobs or operations.
Nicola Sturgeon added:
“It is clear that David Cameron’s fingerprints are all over the scare stories we have seen in the past days and weeks. And just yesterday it was revealed that the UK Treasury had sent unsolicited briefing to the BBC on RBS – the leaking of market sensitive information is a serious matter and the people of Scotland deserve clarity about the role the Treasury played in this.
“The First Minister has asked for an inquiry into this matter and the UK Government must comply.”
“The people of Scotland will not be bullied by the Westminster Tory government as it attempts to spread fear. With recent polling showing more and more people are waking up to the opportunities a Yes vote will bring we are confident that on Thursday they will seize the opportunity a Yes vote offers to build a better, fairer Scotland.”
The UK Government Cabinet Office tonight rejected the accusation that Sir Jeremy had been contacting businesses. A spokeswoman said: “It is simply untrue.”
The episode is the latest to call into quesiton claims being made by the UK Treasury over its involvement in recent statements from leading firms. In a televised debate on Scottish independence, broadcast on Sunday evening, BBC reporter James Cook challenged the UK Government’s claim that it had released information on RBS only after it had been contacted by journalists.
Responding to claims from Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who said the information had only been released to journalists who had requested clarification, Mr Cook said: “Just for the record, I received that email and I didn’t request it”.