The wage bill of Westminster aides and advisers focused on the Union is to balloon to almost half a million pounds, leading to accusations the UK Government is “in a panic” over Scottish independence.
Number 10 currently boasts a four-man “union unit”, with Dominic Cummings’ protégé Oliver Lewis at its head.
The unit, which hit the headlines last week after former MP Luke Graham lost his role, has a wage bill approaching £200,000.
Separately, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is now recruiting four officials to sit in his “union directorate”, which will focus on “maintaining the integrity of the Union”.
Job adverts for roles, which have a combined salary budget of £280,000, stated a grasp of devolved politics was “desirable” but not considered a core attribute – raising eyebrows in some quarters.
Aside from the two union units, the Scotland Office also has a responsibility to “strengthen and sustain the Union”.
The Office has seen its communications staff rise from six to 17 and overall staffing increase by 43% from 58 to 83 between 2011/12 and 2019/20.
The SNP have accused the UK Government of wasting taxpayers’ cash on an “anti-independence campaign”.
‘Tories are completely clueless’
The party’s Cabinet Office spokesman, Stewart Hosie MP, said: “Boris Johnson is clearly in a panic about rising support for independence.
“Despite what they claim in public, the Tories know there will be an independence referendum if the people of Scotland vote for one in May – that’s democracy.
“But the Tories are completely clueless if they arrogantly think a No campaign run by Vote Leave Brexiteers in Westminster, with no understanding of Scotland, will persuade anyone.”
Number 10 have defended the union unit, saying it would help the UK Government to deliver on its manifesto commitments.
The prime minister’s spokesman said: “It’s a key focus of government to ensure that we deliver for people across the United Kingdom and in the devolved administrations, that includes battling the pandemic, getting vaccines out and protecting lives and livelihoods, that’s our priority.”
Asked if Downing Street was motivated to recruit more staff as it was “panicked” by the surging support for Scottish independence, the spokesman said: “No, as I say it remains our focus to ensure that we deliver for people across the United Kingdom and that’s what the union unit will allow us to do.”
The comments came after Nicola Sturgeon mocked the decision to create the unit.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, the first minister said: “I suppose the UK Government asking for people where knowledge of Scotland is desirable you could say is a step in the right direction because there is no evidence they have insisted on that at any point in the past.
“But, doesn’t it say it all – recruiting people in a so-called Union Unit that I understand that they’ve said it’s not essential to have knowledge of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland perhaps might just sum up the Union pretty perfectly.
“The most interesting thing about this Union Unit, as far as I can see, if it was the Scottish Government of course, having an independence unit in this way we’d have howls of protests from the Conservatives.
“It’s all this effort that has been put into fighting a referendum campaign that they say is never ever going to happen. It’s a bit odd that.”