Scotland’s civil servants have allowed themselves to become fully captivated by the SNP’s obsession with independence. The clearcut ruling of the Supreme Court means that the Scottish Government and the Scottish civil service has to drop all indyref2 work and return to complete impartiality. 25 civil servants and more than £20 million of taxpayers’ money was originally set aside to prepare plans for Indyref2. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the writing was on the wall for Nicola Sturgeon’s ill-advised campaign and it was a relief to see John Swinney dump the £20 million pledge in his budget statement. He should also have axed the £9 million allocated to the 8 pretend ‘embassies’ the nationalists run overseas. 

The Permanent Secretary, who is the most senior civil servant in Scotland, must restore public confidence in the impartiality and neutrality of the 7,000 staff he leads. Section 15 of the civil service code states that civil servants must not “act in a way that is determined by party political considerations or use official resources for party political purposes.” Propaganda and SNP hype for separation should be outlawed. If Nicola Sturgeon wants to pursue her political campaign for breaking up the UK, then it has to be funded by her party.

It was a great relief to hear from the unanimous Supreme Court ruling that Scotland is not a former colony and that Scots are neither oppressed nor denied meaningful access to government. Not that it will have convinced Nicola Sturgeon. Scotland has had enough of constitutional arguments. We’ve suffered the quarrels and divisions of the 2014 independence debate and the traumas of the Brexit referendum. We’ve endured two years of pandemic lockdown and now we are faced with a record-breaking cost-of-living crisis, a crisis in the NHS, mounting drug deaths, spiralling energy costs, strikes, a failing education system and, to top it all, a war in Ukraine. Surely the time has come for the Scottish government to focus on the welfare of the people they are supposed to represent, rather than the constant, mind-numbing demand for independence. If the SNP are so certain of majority backing for Indyref2, then they can ask their supporters to put their money where their mouths are and donate the necessary cash to cover the campaign costs.

For our First Minister to declare that she will turn the next general election into a de-facto referendum on independence is ludicrous and has highlighted how out of touch with reality she has become. It is the height of arrogance for Ms Sturgeon to dictate how a UK general election should be run. Poll after poll has shown that the majority of Scots do not want another independence referendum next year or in the near future; that’s not their priority. They want the Scottish government to focus on the economy and on public services which are under relentless pressure. They want the spotlight to be on jobs, growth, education and the NHS. The Scottish public want to vote for politicians who care about their welfare and the day-to-day problems that affect them, not for those who support only a single issue, constitutional pledge on independence. 

Deploying the tired old nationalist argument, that Brexit has radically altered Scotland’s prospects since the 2014 referendum on independence and that only separation from the rest of the UK and re-joining the EU can restore economic prosperity, simply doesn’t wash. If the SNP believe that Brexit created trade barriers with our European neighbours, what on earth do they think Scexit will do? We would have to erect a trade barrier with our major trading partner England.

Scotland already has one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world. Severing the union which has served Scotland well for more than 300 years would be a tragic error. Ending the freedom of movement of people, goods and services between Scotland, England and the rest of the UK would be economically and socially crippling. Terminating the fiscal transfer of billions annually from Whitehall to Scotland would be foolish in the extreme. But if our First Minister thinks she can persuade a majority of Scots to vote for economic hardship then she better start raising party funds to pay for it. 

The SNP need to be honest with Scottish voters over what independence would really mean. They must stop the pretence that independence would come without any discernible hardship. Secession would mean a loss to Scotland of billions annually. It would mean monetary dislocation on a huge scale. Scotland would suffer austerity and economic hardship for a decade or more. To pretend otherwise is dishonest. 

The UK government should highlight the positive advantages of the union. It is hard to imagine a political union with another country that could be more advantageous, with our nationhood retained, political control over domestic essentials retained, sovereignty shared and international influence enhanced. We must re-emphasize the importance of access to the UK single market where we do 63% of our trade, more than we do with the rest of the world combined. 

The Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, has confirmed that Simon Case, Cabinet Secretary and head of the UK civil service, will now, following the Supreme Court ruling, examine whether civil servants at Holyrood should be allowed to continue doing work that relates to a second independence referendum. Alister Jack said: “I think people in Scotland would be rightly concerned that there continues to be hundreds of thousands of pounds, indeed millions of pounds annually spent by civil servants, at the direction of the first minister in the Scottish Government, on what is now a party election issue, because the first minister wants to make this a single-issue election at the next general election.” 

The civil service code sets out the expected standard of behaviour of those employed by the Scottish government, focusing on integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. The fact that the Scottish civil service appears ready to carry out the instructions of the SNP without demur, either points to a deficit of quality among senior officials, or direct politicisation.

The 7,000 civil servants at Holyrood should never forget that they may have to work for another party of a different political complexion one day and that day may come sooner than they think.