Recent information on the Scottish Government’s diversion of significant numbers of civil servants to producing ‘work packages’ on different aspects of the independence proposition was already alarming.
Then this morning it was revealed that the First Minister has appointed an academic to ‘negotiate’ with Brussels on entry for an independent Scotland to the EU. Professor Andrew Scott is to be paid a substantial salary on a three-days-a-week basis.
Both of these actions – part of the party political campaign for Scottish independence – are to be paid for, not by the budget for the ‘Yes’ campaign, but by all of us – through the diversion of the revenues that are raised and given to govern Scotland as it is today – part of the UK.
This raises immediate issues of fiscal propriety in the diversion of substantial sums of public money to the political interests of a minority [this is purely factual] – and in the context of inadequate funds to look after our most vulnerable people – the less or unable elderly – and to repair our roads.
This also has to raise the issue of where the line of probity must be drawn to separate a party of current government from a party pursuing its own political interests.
The two sometimes, but not always, share boundaries.
At the moment, Scotland is a full member of the United Kingdom, from whose overall government the powers and the funding devolved to Scotland are handed down.
Scotland today has a government whose core raison d’etre is achieving independence from the UK for Scotland.
That government is currently leading a campaign which will culminate in October 2014, with the country as a whole taking the decision through a referendum to become independent from the UK or not.
Until that decision is known, the current government has been elected to govern Scotland as it is – and that is what – and only what – it is funded to do.
Should the referendum opt for independence, between then and whatever date separation was formally effected, there is a defensible argument for deflecting funds and the work of public servants into the preparations for that moment.
Independence would then have been specifically mandated by the majority of those eligible to vote. From the moment of that decision, Scotland’s future would be democratically irrevocable. Working and spending to bring this about – judiciously and with regard to everyday responsibilities for the Scottish people and for the economic growth of the country – would therefore be entirely proper.
But it is not proper now.
On the available evidence today, this is not a point the country is likely to reach in the referendum.This probable outcome faces us with two serious problems on what is happening today – and has been for some time – in the disposition of government resources.
The first problem is immediate, in the strongly challengeable propriety of diverting funds and state-paid human resources away from the job for which they exist- to enable the government of the coutry as it is.
The second is the situation which is likely to face the country in October 2014.
Scotland will arrive there following a period of little actual government for straegic economic development. That is already essentially being left ‘until afterwards’, regardless of what shape ‘afterwards’ takes.
The distraction of ministers from their core responsibilities is already evident in, for example, the contract for the Clyde and Hebridean ferries – which should have been concluded in the early Autumn of this year, 2013. This has had to be put back for no fewer than three years, to the Autumn of 2016, on the explicit grounds that more time is needed to prepare for it.
There could be no stronger proof of the level of distraction than the extent of this unreadiness for a contractual date known as soon as the contract was originally signed; and with procurement the daily bread and butter of government.
In October 2014, Scotland is likely to vote ‘No’ to the independence proposition presented to it. This means that on top of having struggled through a period of government where ministerial concentration had been elsewhere, there will be a hiatus, which will prolong the time Scotland exists on tickover.
A goverment that will have spent years willing its political endgame into being will have to force its attention back to picking up the reins on which it should never properly have slackened its grasp.
It will, in the interests of Scotland, have to get cracking to recover the ground abandoned; and it will have to do that in the context of the low morale that follows defeat.
Scotland will also be facing a situation where there will be a plethora of civil servants who are out of touch wth the jobs they were initally appointed to do ; and it will be feeling the loss of funding diverted from development and maintenance in the years running up to the independence vote.
None of this is proper.
The ‘Yes’ campaign is fully entitled to spend its smoney on hiring and directing as big and as expensive a staff establishment as it deems necessary in identifying and specifying all of the work to be done following the event of a ‘Yes’ vote for independence.
It is also entitled to spend as much as it likes on employing whoever to talk to whoever about EU memberbership or anything elese – on behalf of the ‘Yes’ campaign.
Although this campaign is wholeheartedly backed by the Scottish Government, it is not the Scottish Government.
Consultants acting in its interests would represent the ‘Yes’ campaign in exploring hypothetical situations. They could not properly represent the Scottish Government or Scotland on such business at this stage.
It is surprising that none of the other parties at Holyrood have asked for specific information on how many civil servant, of what rank, on what salaries, since what date/s and on what topics, have been diverted to these ‘work packages for a hypothetical independence.
To set that ball rolling, we have lodged a Freedom of Information request to this effect to the Scottish Government.
In it we are asking for information relating to the specifics of the deployment of civil servants to working up aspects of the preparation for potential Scottish independence.
We are also asking for information in relation to the employment of external experts on a contract basis, to carry out specific responsibilities in the work of preparing for potential Scottish independence.
The specific questions asked are then for answers on:
- - the overall number of civil servants deployed to such work;
- the numbers so deployed full time;
- the numbers so deployed part time – with a note of the average hours ‘part time’ describes in this instance;
- the numbers of civil servants so deployed from each hierarchical rank involved;
- the salary spectrum applying to each of the ranks involved;
- the anticipated expenses involved for staff in total in respect of each single work package;
- the topics or titles of each of the work packages to which any are deployed;
- the numbers deployed to each work package;
- the starting dates of each deployment to each work package;
- the number of external experts contracted to work on aspects of preparation for potential Scottish independence;
- the overall costs of such employments;
- the costs of anticipated expenses involved in each piece of such contracted work;
- the topics or titles of their separate contracted responsibilities.
We also ask for a note of which of these deployments are NOT paid for from the public purse; and, in each case where this may apply, what is the source of funding for their work? ‘
When we get that information we will return to this subject. In the meantime, constitutional and procedural propriety in the diversion of funds and the work of governmental civil servants seems to be being ignored.
The same will be true with any funds and diversion of civil servants’ time by the UK government in support of the ‘Better Together’ campaign – although, since the UK is together at the moment there might be rather more validity in the same action from that side of the fence.
The limbo Scotland is in until October 2014 is a confused and befuddled situation at the best of times. If we cannot distinguish between the proper uses of the public purse and individual campaign interests, it will become a great deal worse.