The Scottish National Party (SNP) has slammed the Treasury permanent secretary Nicholas Macpherson for suggesting civil service impartiality does not apply in all circumstances.
Presenting his speech, ‘The Treasury and the Union’, at the inaugural meeting of the Strand Group on 19 January, Macpherson said that in “extreme” cases, such as last September’s Scottish referendum, the rules of civil service impartiality “do not apply”.
Macpherson also defended the significant role the Treasury had to play in the referendum: “Her Majesty’s Treasury is by its nature a unionist institution. The clue is in the name.”
Responding to comments made by former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell, who congratulated the civil service for remaining independent throughout the referendum, Macpherson stressed that the civil service was not independent, as it serves the government of the day.
SNP Treasury spokesperson Stewart Hoise MP said: “These comments are astounding.This is a very serious admission and it begs the question – when will this UK government next abandon impartiality?
“We expect the highest standards from senior civil servants. With this admission, it is clear they have fallen short. I have written to Sir Jeremy Heywood demanding answers on under what circumstances it is acceptable for the rules of impartiality to be suspended?”
He added: “The civil service code states that as a civil servant, you ‘are expected to carry out your role with dedication and a commitment to the civil service and its core values: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality,’ which is ‘acting solely according to the merits of the case and serving equally well governments of different political persuasions’.
“At a time when the UK and Scottish Governments should be able to work in good faith on more powers, this raises serious questions about Scotland’s ability to have any confidence in the role of the Treasury”
A Treasury spokesman said: “There is nothing new in this. All these issues have been aired and addressed before and our position remains unchanged.”