Politicising our civil service': Pressure on Humza Yousaf grows over energy stats row

MSPs call for probe into claims officials “reverse engineered” figures to justify inaccurate claims by Humza Yousaf
Humza Yousaf at First Minister's Questions last week. Photo: SST/Alamy Stock Photo

Pressure is growing for an investigation into claims civil servants “reverse engineered” statistics to back up a claim by Scottish first minister Humza Yousaf about the nation’s renewable energy capacity that was later found to be untrue.

Opposition MSPs have urged Yousaf to refer himself to an independent watchdog over claims he used statistics generated retrospectively by Scottish Government officials to correct the parliamentary record.

Meanwhile, the UK cabinet secretary Simon Case  has been urged to include the controversy in the scope of a wider investigation into the Scottish Government’s use of public money to campaign for independence.

During First Minister's Questions on 22 June, Yousaf told MSPs that "the majority of the [UK’s] renewables and natural resources" were in Scotland. However, Scottish Government figures show that the actual proportion was just 26% in 2022.

Yousaf later said he had intended to say “per capita”, in an August letter to Scottish Conservative MSP Liam Kerr, who had challenged the claim.

But emails later released by the Scottish Government under Freedom of Information legislation showed civil servants discussing the 26% stat following the June FMQs session.

The “per capita” figure did not appear in the highly redacted email chain which was obtained by pro-union organisation These Islands until 3 July. The officials determined that Scotland generates 651.6GWh per 100,000 people, while the rest of the UK generates 649.7GWh altogether.

Critics have said the emails are evidence that Yousaf was not aware of the “per capita” figure before his June comments.

The first minister’s spokesperson denied allegations of a cover-up and said “the fact that we corrected the record speaks for itself”.

But Kerr said the claims in Yousaf’s letter on 29 August were “not true”.

“A freedom of information request reveals that weeks of civil service time and effort were spent in trying to engineer a face-saving response, rather than the first minister simply admitting that he had misled us all,” he said during First Minister's Questions last week.

“Does the first minister share people’s concern that the Scottish civil service appears to be increasingly politicised, which could destroy public trust?”

The civil service code states that officials must “set out the facts and relevant issues truthfully, and correct any errors as soon as possible” and must never “deceive or knowingly mislead” parliament.

Kerr added: “What will [Yousaf] do to prevent such partisan protection for ministers who intentionally mislead in the future?”

In response, Yousaf said he was unwilling to “take lectures about truth and honesty from the party that gave us Boris Johnson”.

George Foulkes, a Labour peer who has backed an investigation into the use of public funds in independence campaigning ,also said the incident pointed to a longstanding trend of civil service politicisation.

Simon Case told the Lords constitution committee in July that he was “looking at some of these specifics” around Scottish Government staff working on an independence campaign.

Lord Foulkes, who was Scotland minister in the Blair administration and later an MSP, said the controversy over energy stats “should be part of the investigation at UK level”.

“There is clearly a problem with the civil service in Scotland,” he told The Telegraph.

The leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said Yousaf should refer himself to the independent adviser on the Scottish ministerial code for investigation, saying the numbers may have been “reverse engineered”.

“I am concerned that these new documents raise the possibility that you knew it was not true to tell parliament that, in your words, ‘I had intended to say ‘per capita’ at FMQs on 22 June,  if indeed this apparent fact was reverse engineered afterwards in the course of your Scottish Government deliberating how it could correct the record and save embarrassment,” he said in a letter last week.

“I am concerned that in the course of correcting the record… you may have knowingly misled parliament in your letter of 29 August,” he added.

The Scottish Tories have also urged Yousaf to refer himself to the watchdog. Kerr issued a series of questions to the first minister on Friday, demanding information on how many officials worked on the response and whether he had forced “supposedly impartial civil servants to breach the ministerial code on your behalf in order to try and save face”.

“The public deserve to know whether the first minister personally instructed supposedly impartial civil servants to spend weeks concocting excuses for him, to try and spare his blushes,” Kerr said in a statement.

He also said the first minister must refer himself to the ministers’ watchdog, saying Yousaf’s “integrity and credibility is on the line”.

“If he doesn’t then there will be little option other than to escalate this matter further within the Scottish Government to determine whether this is another example of the SNP politicising our civil service,” he said.

Both the Scottish Government and Yousaf's spokesperson denied the allegations of a cover-up.

The spokesperson said: "The fact that we corrected the record speaks for itself and the fact that we disclosed under FoI the discussions that took place in terms of civil servants surely also speaks for transparency."

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