A group of MPs has said that one of the UK Government’s most senior officials compromised civil service “impartiality” during the independence referendum.
Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the permanent secretary to the Treasury, should not have published his advice opposing a currency union with an independent Scotland, they said.
Last night, former first minister Alex Salmond urged Sir Nicholas to quit – and said his position had become “untenable”.
In a new report published today, Westminster’s public administration select committee also criticised the Scottish Government’s independence white paper – saying it did “not uphold the factual standards expected”.
And the MPs said officials should be issued with new guidance in the future to avoid a repeat of the mistakes.
Concerns over the politicisation of the civil service were repeatedly raised during last year’s historic constitutional battle, particularly when the Treasury ruled out a currency union, and the Scottish Government published its white paper.
After conducting a year-long inquiry, the committee said: “We conclude that parts of the white paper should not have been included in a government publication.
“Civil servants should not be required to carry out ministers’ wishes, if they are being asked to use public funds to promote the agenda of a political party, as was evident in this case.”
It added: “We further conclude that Sir Nicholas Macpherson’s advice should not have been published.
“Its publication compromised the perceived impartiality of one of the UK’s most senior civil servants. It remains the view of this committee that civil service advice should remain protected.
“The decision to publish will have unintended consequences for advice given to ministers on future major issues – including referendums.
“We invite the (UK) government to make it clear in its response to this report that the publication of advice to ministers will never recur.”
With an eye on a potential in-out referendum on the UK’s EU membership, the MPs called for a revision of the Civil Service Code so that the impartiality rules applied during elections are also adopted for referendums.
A Treasury spokesman said: “As we have made clear before, the question of whether or not the UK would agree to a currency union was an exceptional case where it was important that the arguments were exposed in full before a referendum rather than after it.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government is clear that the white paper, Scotland’s Future, met the highest professional standards, that its contents were entirely appropriate for a government publication and was a proper use of public funds.”