Nicola Sturgeon's mandarin caught boasting that his job is to break up UK

Ken Thomson was filmed telling colleagues that 'strategy' was included in his job title to help get him meetings in Whitehall - Richard Gardner/Shutterstock
Ken Thomson was filmed telling colleagues that 'strategy' was included in his job title to help get him meetings in Whitehall - Richard Gardner/Shutterstock

One of the most senior mandarins working in Nicola Sturgeon's government has been caught on video boasting that his job is to break up the United Kingdom.

Ken Thomson, the Scottish Government's director-general of strategy and external affairs, was filmed telling colleagues earlier this month that "strategy" was included in his job title to help get him meetings in Whitehall.

But Mr Thomson, who is a senior member of the British civil service, said his fellow mandarins in London then discovered "what I’m actually there to talk about is breaking up the (United) Kingdom”.

The Scottish Tories said UK mandarins should not be "boasting that it's their job" to split up the country and warned it was "unacceptable" that taxpayers' money and civil service time be used in this manner.

Donald Cameron, their Shadow Constitution Secretary, said he would write to Jon-Paul Marks, the Scottish Government's permanent secretary, "to see if he agrees with me that it represents a breach of the requirement for civil servants to be politically impartial".

Mr Thomson's comments were made at an internal Scottish Government event on Nov 17, less than a week before the Supreme Court ruled Ms Sturgeon has no power to hold her planned independence referendum next year.

It emerged this week that Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary and the head of the UK civil service, is re-examining whether the First Minister should be permitted to continue using public money and officials on independence following the ruling.

'Civil servants shouldn't be boasting that it’s their job'

The Telegraph disclosed that Whitehall advice has been sought by UK ministers and the Scottish Tories were writing to John-Paul Marks, the Scottish Government's permanent secretary, demanding "urgent clarification" on whether the spending was lawful.

Donald Cameron, the Scottish Tories' Shadow Constitution Secretary, said: "We all know that the nationalists’ strategy amounts to nothing other than breaking up the UK, but civil servants should not be boasting that it’s their job.

Watch: What next for Scottish independence, after Supreme Court ruling on referendum powers?

"When there are serious questions about the SNP persisting with projects that may well be out with the Scottish Government’s lawful competence, this is another example of their focus on their own constitutional obsessions."

Mr Thomson's brief includes constitutional issues and external affairs despite both policies being reserved to Westminster. He is also responsible for “intergovernmental relations”, dealing with Whitehall and the UK Government.

He was previously principal private secretary to Donald Dewar as Scottish Secretary in Tony Blair's Government, then as the first Scottish First Minister following devolution in 1999.

'It’s a shorthand for constitutional change'

However, Alex Salmond's SNP administration at Holyrood put him in charge of work to deliver the 2014 independence referendum. He became director-general for constitution and external affairs in July 2017.

The footage, which was passed to the Daily Record, showed a question-and-answer session he conducted with colleagues at an event called “mastering the civil service craft”.

Mr Thomson said: “I’ll tell you a secret about why I’ve got ‘strategy’ in my job description. It’s a word that gets me through some doors in Whitehall, and then they discover that what I’m actually there to talk about is breaking up the Kingdom.”

After attendees laughed at his comments, he concluded: “So it’s a shorthand for constitutional change.”

Even after the "No" vote in the 2014 referendum, Scottish Government civil servants were permitted to work on independence plans on the basis they were duty bound to help SNP ministers advance their political objectives.

Sturgeon refuses to reallocate IndyRef2 fund

But Ms Sturgeon has refused to reallocate her £20 million referendum fund in the wake of the Supreme Court's unanimous decision that the Union is reserved to Westminster, saying she hoped the UK Government would perform an about-turn and allow a vote.

She also said that public funds and civil service time would be spent preparing a series of papers that together will form a new independence prospectus. Three had been published before this week's court result.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "During an hour long Q&A session with Scottish Government staff on Nov 17, the director-general for strategy and external affairs made an informal comment in response to a question about his job-title.

“As outlined during that session, the role of civil servants is to support Ministers in a way consistent with the Civil Service Code, good government, organisational values and the democratic process.”