Nicola Sturgeon has come under furious attack as confusion surrounds whether the SNP still intends to spend millions of pounds planning for a second referendum on Scottish independence. The Scottish Conservatives have written to the Scottish Government’s top civil servant to ask whether the £20 million initially allocated to planning IndyRef2 should still be spent on it.
The SNP is planning to use the next general election as a “de facto” referendum, but that plot has been criticized by MSP Donald Cameron, who claimed civil servants should not be deployed on “party propaganda”.
Figures obtained by the Tories at the weekend revealed more than £1.5 million of taxpayer money would be spent on civil servant salaries who are charged with working on the independence brief.
But Mr Cameron said following last week’s Supreme Court ruling, he is struggling to see any legal justification for ministers to spend the figure.
The Scottish Conservatives have also launched a furious outburst on Twitter, writing: “It’s outrageous for Nicola Sturgeon to spend public money planning for a second referendum that most people don’t want and the Supreme Court has ruled as unlawful whilst imposing huge cuts on Scotland’s public services.”
In response, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross tweeted: “It is outrageous that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP continue to spend public money campaigning for independence. This money should be given to our struggling public services now.”
The Scottish Government has insisted that the role of the civil service is to support the elected Government in developing and implementing policies.
A spokesperson added: “In light of majority support within the Scottish Parliament for an independence referendum, Scottish ministers remain ready to engage with the UK government at any point on delivering that referendum.
“The Scottish government will also continue to set out, through the Building a New Scotland prospectus series, what could be done with the full powers of independence, reflecting its Program for Government commitments.”
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In his letter to permanent secretary John-Paul Marks, Mr Cameron said he was seeking “urgent clarification” on whether this remained the position of the Scottish Government, and also urged Mr Marks to seek a ministerial direction to settle the matter.
Mr Cameron added: “Nicola Sturgeon said her next step, after the Supreme Court’s judgment, was to try to turn the next general election into a ‘de facto referendum’.
“But that’s SNP strategy as a party – not a Scottish government policy. There is no excuse for impartial civil servants to be deployed on party propaganda in this way, and no reason for taxpayers’ money to be wasted on it.
“In the midst of a global cost of living crisis and huge cuts being imposed by the SNP on key public services, it’s outrageous for ministers to spend money pushing for a referendum that most Scots don’t want.”
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Last week, Ms Sturgeon’s independence plans suffered a huge blow when the Supreme Court ruled that she does not have the power to hold the vote without the UK Government’s consent.
Court president Lord Reed rejected the argument from the Scottish Government that any referendum would simply be “advisory” and would have no legal effect on the union.
This would have seen people only being asked to give their opinion on whether or not Scotland should become an independent country.
Ms Sturgeon has stood firm and admitted that while she was disappointed but respected the court’s ruling, judges do not make the law and only interpret it.
The First Minister insisted a referendum remained her preferred option, but without an agreement in place, the SNP would use the next UK general election as a “de facto referendum” in an attempt to show that a majority of people in Scotland support independence.
She added that the SNP will now debate the “precise detail” of this matter in due course, with a special conference to be held in the new year.