Sturgeon may be sued for using taxpayer money to fund referendum plot

Nicola Sturgeon slammed by Scottish Conservatives

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Nicola Sturgeon could be facing legal action for using taxpayers’ money to plan a second Scottish independence referendum. UK ministers are planning to demand “urgent clarification” from the Scottish Government on whether or not it is lawful for civil servants to help with the independence bid. This comes after the Supreme Court rejected Ms Sturgeon’s bid to hold a second referendum.

The Government will write to the permanent secretary of the Scottish government, John-Paul Marks, and is seeking Whitehall’s advice on the issue, according to reports.

Conservative MSP Donald Cameron, shadow constitution secretary, said Mr Marks has a legal duty to seek “a ministerial direction” – a formal objection to SNP ministers spending public money on an area over which they have no responsibility.

Permanent secretaries of Whitehall departments and the devolved administrations are obliged to seek a ministerial direction if they believe any spending proposal is beyond the powers of their respective ministers.

Mr Cameron told the Telegraph: “Given there will be no referendum in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, I see no justification for the SNP Government continuing to deploy 25 civil servants – at a combined annual cost to the taxpayer of £1.5 million – to pursue the case for independence.

“At the very least Nicola Sturgeon is blurring the lines between party and government; at worst, she is misusing civil servants to work on her party’s strategy for the next UK general election.”

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish Parliament cannot legislate for a fresh vote without Rishi Sunak’s consent.

Supreme Court president Lord Reed said on Wednesday: “The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence.”

But in a press conference after the ruling, Ms Sturgeon vowed to continue pushing for independence, saying: “As long as there is breath in my body, I refuse to give up on the basic principle of democracy.”

A group of businessmen, led by care home tycoon Robert Kilgour, has also obtained legal advice suggesting that it may be illegal for Scottish ministers to spend public money on independence when they don’t have the power to hold a referendum on the issue.

The group has said it is “scandalous” that Ms Sturgeon’s government is spending public money on the issue, rather than using SNP funds.

It has instructed a leading lawyer to set out options to tackle the issue, including a possible judicial review in the Court of Session.

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The case is set to focus on the claim that use of public resources on independence by SNP ministers is beyond their legal power or authority.

Mr Kilgour described the use of public money as “arrogance beyond belief”.

He said: “Nicola Sturgeon is using public taxpayers’ money and civil servants for party purposes.

“We’re seeking legal advice on the options in front of us. Enough is enough.

“I waited to see what her and the SNP response is and it seems to be ‘full steam ahead’ on spending public money and using civil servants on what is, from the Supreme Court ruling, quite clearly party campaigning activity, not something that is within their remit as an elected government to do.

“It is absolutely scandalous that they are doing this. It is arrogance beyond belief and is a complete insult to Scottish taxpayers.”

The First Minister said she would use the next UK general election as a “de facto referendum”.

She said: “We must and we will find another democratic, lawful and constitutional means by which the Scottish people can express their will. In my view that can only be an election.

“The next national election scheduled for Scotland is of course the UK general election, making that both the first and the most obvious opportunity to seek what I described back in June as a de facto referendum.”

Ms Sturgeon said that the SNP will hold a special conference in the new year to “discuss and agree the detail of a proposed de facto referendum”.

She added that the party will launch a “major campaign in defence of Scottish democracy” in the meantime.

The group is also assessing whether to raise concerns in the legal case about the £370million budget of the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture department overseen by Angus Robertson, which includes spending on overseas Scottish ’embassies’.

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