Tories in ‘panic’ over Scottish independence, as millions splashed on pro-union spending

Communications spending in the Scotland Office has tripled in recent years.

The SNP has accused the Tories of panicking over growing support for independence – as new figures show the UK government is spending millions of pounds on pro-union campaigning.

Newly released Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, and job adverts, reveal the Tory government is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on new staff for its ‘Union Unit’.

It follows a separate FoI response in December, which revealed soaring expenditure on communications and advertising at the Scotland Office.

Together, the data shows the Tory government is spending millions on its anti-independence campaign, despite continuing to publicly refuse permission for a second independence referendum.

The FoI requests reveal:

  • £110,000-£114,999 on an annual salary for Oliver Lewis, the former Vote Leave staffer and Brexit apprentice of Dominic Cummings who heads the Union Unit
  • £57,000 – £80,000 on salary for Jack Sellers, a Union Unit special adviser who works jointly with the Wales Office, and an undisclosed amount for two additional unnamed policy advisers
  • An estimated £280,000 for “at least” four new “heads of role” posts in Michael Gove’s Union Directorate – including heads of communications, policy, analysis and engagement, advertised at a salary of £64,500 – £70,877 each
  • £8,538,000 on soaring Scotland Office expenditure, which has risen by 73 per cent since 2013/14, with spending on communications tripling from £509,343 in 2013/14 to £1,354,776 in 2019/20

The number of Scotland Office communications staff has also tripled from six to 17, and overall staffing increased by 43 per cent from 58 to 83 since 2011.

Twenty consecutive polls have now shown a majority for independence in Scotland. In the adverts for the new Union Unit posts a knowledge of Scotland is not required and is only listed as “desirable” – a fact which has angered independence supporters, making the front page of today’s National.

Commenting on the findings, the SNP’s Stewart Hosie MP said: “Boris Johnson is clearly in a panic about rising support for independence – if he is spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on political campaigning.

“Despite what they claim in public, the Tories know there will be an independence referendum if the people of Scotland vote for one in May – that’s democracy. But the Tories are completely clueless if they arrogantly think a No campaign run by Vote Leave Brexiteers in Westminster, with no understanding of Scotland, will persuade anyone.

“People in Scotland have the right to decide their own future. The issue at the election in May will be this: who has the right to decide what sort of country we should be after the pandemic – the people of Scotland or Boris Johnson? Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s.”

The PM’s spokesman denied No 10 were in a panic, saying: “It remains our focus to ensure that we deliver for people across the United Kingdom, and that’s what the Union Directorate allows us to do.”

Josiah Mortimer is Co-Editor of Left Foot Forward.

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