Nicola Sturgeon under scrutiny for using public money and civil servants on independence plans

Mr Jack told MPs that Mr Marks was in close contact with Mr Case and Sue Gray, the second permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office, who leads on the Union and the constitution.

The Scottish Secretary said there had been a previous review of the civil service in Scotland following the 2014 referendum.

“Following this judgment, they’re working again on what that means for the role of the civil service in Scotland so we’ll have to see where that takes us,” Mr Jack said.

He pointed out the First Minister was forced to hold a press conference on the ruling last week at an Edinburgh hotel on an SNP-branded podium rather than at her official Bute House residence.

Mr Jack said it would have been wrong for Ms Sturgeon to have outlined her plan to use the next general election as a ‘de facto’ referendum from Holyrood or her Bute House official residence “because it is very much moving the argument going forward onto a political basis.”

The Scottish Secretary said it “would be no different” if Ms Sturgeon was using her civil service to try and remove the Trident nuclear deterrent from its Faslane base on the Clyde, as defence is another policy area entirely reserved to Westminster.

Pressed by Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, he disclosed the UK Government had spent around £71,800 of public money on the Supreme Court action brought by Ms Sturgeon.

Election as a ‘de facto’ referendum

Mr Jack told MPs that Scots could have another referendum if there was “sustained support” for one, citing Ms Sturgeon’s previous definition of this as 60 per cent backing for a year.

But he said polling clearly indicated they do not want one in the near future, with their priorities instead being the cost of living crisis and rebuilding the economy after Covid.

The Scottish Secretary also rejected her plan to use the general election as a ‘de facto’ referendum, giving her a mandate to open independence negotiations with the UK Government if nationalist parties win more than half the popular vote.

He said an election cannot be used to measure support or opposition on one question because people do not “vote on one specific issue in a manifesto”.

In a damning conclusion, he said “you can’t have a mandate for something that we now know you legally do not have any power over.”

Mr Cameron said there was no legal justification “to continue to lavish £20 million on planning for a referendum that they don’t have the authority to hold” and that was “why I have written to the permanent secretary for clarification”.

He said Ms Sturgeon’s de facto referendum plan was party political and not Scottish Government policy, adding: “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.”

The Cabinet Office declined to comment other than referring to Mr Jack’s comments. It is understood Mr Case is not conducting a formal review. The Scottish Government was approached for comment.

The Scottish Government said Mr Marks would respond to Mr Cameron “in due course” but it would “continue to set out” the series of papers Ms Sturgeon has ordered to form her new independence prospectus.

A spokesman said: “It is the role of the civil service to support the elected government of the day in developing and implementing its policies.”

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