Feelings that the SNP/Green government’s civil servants have gone rogue were reaffirmed in stark terms at the UK Covid Inquiry in Edinburgh. Liz Lloyd, former first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s chief of staff, admitted that she had been seeking to provoke “a good old-fashioned rammy” with the UK government. Giving evidence about an exchange of messages between herself and Ms Sturgeon, Liz Lloyd was asked by the inquiry chair Lady Hallett if she had been using the pandemic to create public spats with the UK Government. Ms Lloyd tried to wriggle out of the embarrassing revelation by stating: “Good old-fashioned rammy is language I would rarely use, actually.” 

Her revelation followed the exposure of an expletive laden text from Nicola Sturgeon to Liz Lloyd in which she called prime minister Boris Johnson “a f*****g clown.” In further shock disclosures, Scotland’s national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch sent a WhatsApp message to the then health secretary Humza Yousaf, referring to Labour MSP Neil Findlay as a “t**t and an “a***hole.” He also accused Edward Mountain, a Tory MSP, of being rude, and described Labour MSP Daniel Johnson as a “smart a**e.” Prejudicial comments of this nature from senior civil servants demonstrate how the culture of animosity has filtered down from the SNP leadership to the civil service.

Fighting back tears at the inquiry yesterday, an emotional Nicola Sturgeon admitted she had deleted her WhatsApp messages but denied there was an approach to secrecy during Covid. Stating that at times she felt “overwhelmed by the scale” of what she had to deal with in the pandemic, the former First Minister rejected that the Scottish government had been “asleep at the wheel” when it came to dealing with the elderly and most vulnerable part of the population. She also denied that she had taken decisions designed to “irritate” Boris Johnson, or to further the cause of independence, despite being shown a cabinet minute that agreed to consider “restarting work on the campaign for independence”, based on experience gained during the coronavirus pandemic.

The eye-opening admissions have reinforced views that sixteen years of SNP rule have severely tarnished Holyrood’s civil service, whose code of conduct requires them to observe 'impartiality' and to serve “equally well governments of different political persuasions.” The code warns that “This in turn helps the civil service to gain and retain the respect of ministers, parliament, the public and its customers.” That respect is now being seriously undermined. There are growing fears that some officials have become overly politicised, showing a clear bias in favour of Scottish independence and an appetite for fuelling the SNP/Green government’s grudge and grievance policy of picking fights with Whitehall and blaming Westminster for everything.

There are increasing demands by UK ministers that all officials in Scotland should be answerable to the Cabinet Secretary in Whitehall. This has been particularly incited by Humza Yousaf’s decision to dedicate a team of 20 civil servants working on a series of nine papers entitled ‘Building a New Scotland’, ostensibly to promote the SNP/Green government’s philosophy on independence. The 20-strong team, known as the Constitutional Futures Division, cost Scottish taxpayers around £1.4m in salaries alone during 2022-23. Many people have expressed anger that these civil servants are working on what amounts to SNP/Green party-political propaganda, despite the Union being a matter reserved to Westminster and despite the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled in 2022 that Holyrood could not hold Indyref2 without Westminster consent. Another referendum on independence is therefore no longer a viable impending option. 

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, the head of the UK civil service, said last year it was “unusual and worrying” for officials in Edinburgh to be working on the break-up of the UK and promised new guidance for civil servants on the matter. This situation has been compounded by Humza Yousaf’s appointment of Jamie Hepburn as minister for independence in his government, with a significant number of support staff and a series of ‘pretend’ Scottish embassies dotted around the world at great expense to Scottish taxpayers. Under the SNP/Green government, many fear that some of Scotland’s civil servants, although they have a responsibility to deliver the Scottish government’s policies, appear to have forgotten that they are part of the UK-wide civil service, and must follow its rules. 

There is also growing frustration at the cavalier behaviour of First Minister Humza Yousaf, who met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the COP28 summit in Dubai last December. Any such meetings should always have a UK government official present to provide foreign office advice and take notes. Humza Yousaf ignored this regulation and even controversially invited the Turkish president to visit Scotland, causing outrage amongst members of the UK Kurdish community, who regard Erdogan as their mortal enemy. But Humza Yousaf’s disdain for Westminster and arrogant rejection of the rules will have set an unfortunate example for his closest officials.

Against the background of a cost-of-living crisis, an energy crunch, the NHS in meltdown, sky-high drug deaths, bankrupt councils, the ferry shambles, falling educational standards and a lack of affordable housing, the on-going SNP/Green obsession with independence is hardly at the top of anyone’s agenda right now. Humza Yousaf needs to get his house in order and start dealing with the day-to-day issues that matter to the majority of people. More superfluous papers on breaking up the UK and severing ties with our biggest trading partner, simply puts the brakes on business growth and investment, as do the ever-spiralling taxes and failing services. 

Despite former FM Nicola Sturgeon’s determined efforts to deny it, evidence led at the Covid inquiry demonstrate that the then First Minister and her senior aides disgracefully tried to exploit and politicise the pandemic for party political purposes. For the friends and families of those who died, this must come as a shocking disclosure. But almost as shocking is the realisation that some of our senior officials in Scotland have been tainted by too close a relationship with the arrogance and egotism of SNP ministers, drunk on power and determined to destroy the UK, but ultimately only succeeding in destroying themselves and tarnishing the good reputation of our civil service.