The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has denied urging civil servants to vote ‘No’ in the Scottish Independence referendum in September.
A memo written by the permanent secretary Robert Devereux sent to DWP staff reads:
“It is important that, as civil servants, we understand why the Scottish independence referendum is different from elections such as a UK General Election or a European Election.
“This is because the UK government has a clear position to maintain the Union and so it is legitimate and necessary for UK civil servants to support the government in this objective.”
A DWP spokesman said the memo set out guidance to staff on how to communicate referendum information to the public. However, the PCS said it was “poorly written, ill-judged and patronising”.
PCS Scottish Secretary Lynn Henderson said:
“This is a very sensitive issue north of the border and one in which civil servants are all too aware of from both the UK and Scottish governments’ respective positions on independence. They remain bound by the civil service code.
“The wording of this memo is not only clumsy but it also seeks to blame lower-graded civil servants for not understanding the instruction on how to conduct themselves as civil servants, rather than as voting citizens in a democracy. I suspect that the intent may have backfired somewhat.”
First Minister Alex Salmond said the memo was “deeply disturbing” and should be withdrawn immediately. “They are not to instruct the workers on how they should vote”, he told BBC News.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government added: “As part of the Edinburgh Agreement, both the UK and Scottish Governments have committed to restrictions on publications in the 28 days before the referendum.
“The restrictions mean that in this period, publications and public-facing activity on referendum issues will take place on a campaign or party footing, and not through government.
“Civil servants continue to operate normally, serving the government in line with the Civil Service Code.”
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