A secret document from Scotland’s most senior civil servant has warned a second independence referendum could have a knock-on effect on Nicola Sturgeon’s domestic priorities.
Ministers were last night accused of attempting to conceal the advice note written by Permanent Secretary Lesley Evans in March 2017.
A redacted version of the document, titled The Independence Referendum, was published in September last year by the Scottish Government in response to a request under Freedom of Information legislation.
But the full copy has only just been made public after a year-long battle after the Tories appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner, who ruled the entire document should be published.
According to Ms Evans’s note, the permanent secretary said Scottish Government analysis would offer a view on the “impact” the referendum “might have on the government’s wider programme of activity to deliver your Programme for Government commitments”.
The document said it would be “important” for the civil service to develop “robust plans” to ensure readiness for either outcome of the referendum including “transitional planning” for independence.
The document also highlighted the difficulty of preparing for indyref2 while the UK leaves the EU, saying it would require “focus and careful management”.
Another unredacted extract said the government would have to “deprioritise” policy areas.
It said civil servants would “identify where we see scope for deprioritisation of activity and essential augmentation of skills or capacity – which would be made necessary by Brexit, notwithstanding the decision on the referendum”.
Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw claimed the document showed that a referendum would push public services to the “back of the queue” and called on the first minister to ditch her plans.
“The SNP tried to keep this document under wraps and it’s clear why,” Mr Carlaw said.
“It shows that delivering Nicola Sturgeon’s referendum on independence won’t just divide our country all over again, it will push your school, your local hospital and your high street to the back of the queue. Instead of sorting our Scotland’s schools, a referendum would see taxpayer-funded civil servants working on the ‘transition’ to independence.
“She said it would be once in a generation. It turns out it’s been every hour of every day since she lost. It’s a complete betrayal of the 2014 vote. With violent crime on the rise, hospital projects in tatters, and our education system failing to deliver, Nicola Sturgeon needs to listen for once. Dump the independence referendum, and focus on what really matters.”
Constitution Secretary Michael Russell’s spokesman said: “The only thing revealed here is the state of utter panic the Scottish Tories have been reduced to in their opposition to the independence referendum that they know is coming and which they know they are losing the argument on.
“We have been entirely open about the fact we are preparing for a referendum, and this material shows how, regardless of that, it is Brexit which is impacting on day to day work in other areas.
“For the Tories – whose bosses at Westminster have been reduced to a zombie government with no legislative programme at all – their comments are borderline delusional.”