An update – letters between me and UK Ministers

I mentioned in my post this morning that I had written to Nick Clegg. Earlier today I received responses from him and the Secretary of State for Scotland, which I have attached below with a copy of my original letter.

I will be following up with the DPM and SoS on two issues:

1. The UK government should provide access to information on reserved issues. Clearly there is information held by the UK government on, for example, the detailed breakdown of welfare and defence spend in Scotland, that could and would inform debate. I want to clarify that when he says ‘we will not carry out financial modelling or allocate civil service resources to support plans for independence’, Michael Moore isn’t signalling that he’ll block access to information in reserved areas.

2. Preparation is not pre-negotiation. Having discussions now to develop an understanding of the issues that will require negotiation after a ‘yes’ vote, what approach we will take to these negotiations and what factual information will underpin them is not to pre-empt the outcome of the referendum – it is simply to ensure that if there is a ‘yes’ vote we can get to work quickly on resolving these issues and implementing the democratic decision of the people of Scotland. It’s an approach based on the same principle as the pre-election access opposition parties get to the civil service – to ensure that the groundwork is done to enable them to get to work quickly if they win.

Agreeing a framework on both these points doesn’t involve either government conceding any ground in the substantive debate – but it will help ensure that the debate is as informed as possible and that is surely in the interests of the Scottish people. As Nick Clegg rightly says in his letter, the referendum is the most important political decisions that people of Scotland will face in their lifetimes. So there should be a grown-up open discussion between governments, and with the people of Scotland.

POSTSCRIPT – look out for Alex Salmond’s speech tomorrow on one of the main opportunities of independence .

  • ChuckRialto

    Unfortunately, it seems that the last thing the Westminster Government want is for this to be an informed debate.

  • Bill Cruickshank

    Thank you for providing this information, it is a very refreshing development which can only add to the debate and help people make an informed decision in the Referendum vote.

  • John MacIntyre OBE, WOKING

    The SNP Government has neither a democratic nor a legal mandate to
    conduct negotiations on the terms of independence for Scotland in the event of
    a majority “yes” vote in the referendum. The commitment made in the SNP’s 2011
    election manifesto was that, “We will give Scots the opportunity to decide our
    nation’s future in an independence referendum.” It was on the basis of this mandate
    that the Edinburgh Agreement was signed. 

    Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act
    1998 reserves to the United Kingdom Government matters relating to “the Union
    of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England”. The effect of the Order associated
    with the Edinburgh Agreement is to amend the 1998 Act and to devolve to the
    Scottish Government “a referendum on the independence of Scotland from the rest of the United
    Kingdom if the following requirements are met.” One of the requirements that
    must be met is that the referendum is held by 31 December 2014. But that’s as
    far as it goes – the SNP Government has neither a democratic nor a legal
    mandate to anticipate the outcome of the referendum and to negotiate the terms
    of independence in the event of a majority “yes” vote.

    • WillieHogg

       “the SNP Government has neither a democratic nor a legal mandate to anticipate the outcome of the referendum”

      As the Blog makes plain, the access that the SNP are seeking is analogous to the access afforded to opposition parties in the run-up to parliamentary elections. A courtesy which it is logical and reasonable to request and one which the UK government should grant, if it wishes to avoid taking sides among UK citizens (eg putting the needs of the London Elite before those of Scotland).

      However, your statement “and to negotiate the terms of independence in the event of a majority “yes” vote.”, betrays an ignorance of Scottish constitutional law.

    • dadsarmy

      Much of the answer to this is discussed on the SCFF website in an article by Aileen McHarg:
      no idea if URLs are allowed on this site!
      Basically the Scottish Government has the full right (and duty) to prepare for forthcoming legislation.

      • John MacIntyre OBE, WOKING

        I think you misunderstand both my post and the view on
        the SCFF Blog that you have read. The point I made in my post was that the
        Order associated with the Edinburgh Agreement does not provide “a legal mandate to anticipate the
        outcome of the referendum and to negotiate the terms of independence in the
        event of a majority ‘yes’ vote.” That point is confirmed in the view on the
        SCFF Blog.


        What the view on the SCFF
        blog does is to discuss the question of “implied powers”. In the context of the
        referendum, the main points it makes are summarised in the following extract:-


        doctrine of implied powers expands the powers of statutory bodies by permitting
        them to do things which are reasonably incidental to their express powers.
        ‘Reasonably incidental’ means that they have powers to do things which are
        conducive towards or facilitative of the exercise of their express powers; it
        does not mean that they have powers to do things which are merely related to
        the subject matter of their express powers. In relation to the section 30
        Order, therefore, this means that the Scottish Government and Parliament will
        have implied powers to do things which facilitate the holding of a referendum.
        It is less clear whether this will include powers to prepare for independence –
        the doctrine of implied powers can be applied generously or restrictively.”


        The bottom line is that
        the UK Government has confirmed that will not enter into negotiations about the
        terms of independence unless and until there is a majority “yes” vote in the
        referendum. And that is that.

        • dadsarmy

          That’s one quote John, another however is this:

          ” Again, I think the general argument can be made that, if it is accepted that the devolved institutions have a legitimate role to play in decisions about Scotland’s constitutional future (and everyone seems to accept – and the Scotland Act, though the section 30 Order procedure, expressly confirms – that they do), then they must, implicitly, have the legal powers necessary to enable them to play that role.”

          The report itself was about the civil service and the law officers, but it seems to me that it has the same relevance to the devolved parliament and government. It all goes back to a previous statement: “In any case, though, the doctrine of implied powers is not the only potential legal basis for the taking of legal or civil service advice on the implications of independence. ” and the rest of that paragraph. Common sense.

  • Richard Richardson

    I notice that Michael Moore says of the UK government papers:
    The UK Government is determined to ensure that when people in Scotland vote in the referendum, they are aware of the benefits that they gain currently from being part of the United Kingdom family, and the choices that would arise from a majority vote to leave it.
    That I is why we will be publishing a series of papers in the course of this year,
    setting out evidence and analysis of Scotland’s position within the United Kingdom.

    This is not what you are saying of the Scottish Government papers. You are saying that the civil servants will produce papers putting the yes case – not “evidence and analysis” but the yes case.

    This would be an abuse of taxpayer funds and civil service neutrality. It is bad enough the taxpayer funding this site to campaign for a yes vote but getting the civil service to put the Yes case down on paper is outrageous. They should be tasked with producing evidence, analysis and options not with putting the Yes case

    • Anon_Sailor

      I can hardly wait to read these amazing papers that will inform me of the benefits of remaining in the Union, so far Ive not heard one thing from a Unionist other than the mantra BitterTogether!
      Can you give me one example?
      Note the Tory that said if Scotland votes No is a mandate to cut block grant!

      • Richard Richardson

        Again – the papers Moore says he will supply will not be putting the case for union. They will be to inform the debate.

        The politicians put the case, the civil service provides evidence and analysis…unless its in Scotland and Nicola tells them to put the yes case together for her.

        I guess when we get the first one we can discuss it.

        • The_Byrne

          You’re nit-picking, Richard. And you know it! So Moore’s papers will not be putting the case for union? Even though he states quite clearly that they will ‘ensure that … people … are aware of the benefits that they gain currently from being part of the United Kingdom family’. And you call that ‘informing the debate’? Not ‘putting the case’ for one side of the debate?

          • Richard Richardson

            I am not nit picking. Moore may be disingenuous but he clearly splits what the government will do – put the case for a No vote and what the civil service produced papers will do – provide evidence and analysis. This is what all civil service produced papers are supposed to do. They look at the risks, the options, the evidence and the facts. They put both sides.

            Nicola is saying “During this year the Scottish Government will publish a series of papers covering the main arguments for independence, leading to a white paper in the autumn that will set out the Government’s proposals for an independent Scotland”

            This is not a trivial difference. Getting civil servants to put the case for independence is an abuse of their neutrality and means that taxpayers are being asked to fund the yes campaign and political activity (incidentally outside of the campaign spending cap) .

            Far better now for Nicola to clarify that the Scottish produced papers will deal with the issues not the case for. Evidence to inform the debate not part of the campaign.

            Back in 2007 the Scottish Executive commissioned a citizen’s jury to look at Scottish Executive communications. It is available here:


            This is from the conclusions and is relevant to the need for civil service neutrality:

            “An impartial civil service plays an important role in building trust in communications • Politicians and the media should consider how their behaviour affects public trust and confidence in government  • Modern government should be based on the following  principles: o Openness, not secrecy o More direct, unmediated communications with the public o Genuine engagement with the public as part of policy formation and delivery and not  as a communications’ afterthought o Clear presentation of government policies / achievement o Use of all relevant channels, and not over-reliance on national press and broadcasters  o Better co-ordinated communication of cross-cutting department messages o The civil service’s political neutrality should be stressed o Public interests should be paramount in any modernisation of government communications. 

          • Gayle Miller

            Codswallop! it is in the UK Government’s interests to promote the union. They state clearly they will be highlighting only the benefits of being in the union, which should be rather short since I can’t think of one benefit to Scotland, UK sure but Scotland? Nope. 
            The Scottish Government have a duty to present evidence and analysis for independence. That is the reason for the referendum after all. Unlike the Labour party and their golden goodbyes the taxpayers money will be spent properly.  BTW a debate means putting forward a sound argument for your case not throwing anti-scottish insults at the people, you (unionists) are meant to be representing. 

          • Richard Richardson

            I have no problem with the Scottish Government putting the case for independence. Similarly the Westminster government can say whatever it likes.

            My problem is with declaring that civil servants will produce papers putting the case – something Nicola has done here in her blog and something that is unconstitutional. Now Moore may have wanted to say in his letter that the UK government will produce papers putting the case for the union but he did not, maybe as his letter gets reviewed/redrafted by a civil servant whereas on here only our posts are reviewed for publication by a civil servant and Nicola’s blog entries are not redrafted by them.

            Scottish Government put the case – fine, but the civil service needs to be independent and any papers they produce need to be and to be seen to be balanced – whether they come from Westminster or Holyrood.

            I am puzzled as to why you are being so aggressive about this because civil service neutrality is something an independent Scotland should want. Hopefully those drafting them will stick to this standard despite Nicola bending the constitution on here.

  • spooked

    Looks like Michael Moores’ reply makes it very clear and I agree with him. The UK govt acts for the UK and that includes the current poll majority in Scotland that do not want secession

    • WillieHogg

       If the polls move in favour of independence, would you expect the UK govt to act for Scotland?

    • dadsarmy

      It’s a bit old this thread, but a slight correction. The UK government acts for the UK, and that includes those in Scotland that don’t want Independence, but it also includes those that do.

      In the same way as the Scottish Government acts for those in Scotland who want Independence, but also those that don’t …

  • gerrydotp
  • dadsarmy

    Michael Moore said: “the UK Government must – and will – continue to act in the interests of Scotland, as well as the rest of the UK. We cannot and will not enter into any discussions before the referendum that mean or imply that the UK Government is acting or speaking for the rest of the UK, excluding Scotland.

    While the first part of this is true, correct and desirable, the second part is true, correct but undesirable. If there is a legal or constitutional reason why the UK cannot speak on behalf of the rUK, this is a hindrance, and not just for Scotland, but the rUK itself.

    As a first step, the UK Government should put into place measures such that the mandate or framework exists to speak on behalf of the rUK, presumably via Michael Moore. This saves time. In addition, it seems to me that it will most definitely be in the interest of the rUK to at least have a framework ready for negotiations, and perhaps at least an exchange with the SG of the starting points of negotiations – e.g. 31 from the UKG, and 16 from the SG! Set the limits, but also the full range of negotiations neccesary.

    The aim of both “sides” after a YES vote will surely be to move as swiftly as possible towards the split of the two, with robust negotiations, but a mutually acceptable endpoint, as quickly as possible. so as to achieve stability for both parties, then say good-bye, exchange dinner invitations, and both be on our way.

    I’m sure the rest of the UK is thinking about what is needed to safeguard its interests, but perhaps it needs to think a little longer and harder.