Sturgeon calls for Whitehall talks

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Published: Sunday 22nd February 2015 by The News Editor

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to the head of the UK civil service calling for the SNP to be included in pre-election Whitehall talks.

The SNP leader’s letter to Sir Jeremy Heywood said that polling suggested all parties with elected MPs could be in a position of power after May 7.

By convention, opposition parties are entitled to enter into confidential discussions with senior civil servants in the run-up to a general election but discussions must be sanctioned by Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Cabinet Office confirmed it had received the letter and said Mr Cameron would respond in due course.

Ms Sturgeon’s letter said: ” The SNP programme includes a substantial alternative to the austerity cuts supported by the UK Westminster parties, cancelling the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system, and a requirement that each and every constituent nation of the UK would have to vote to leave the European Union in any in/out referendum before the UK could exit.

“These and other policies which we will seek to advance in the next parliament are obviously of UK-wide application, and I believe that the Whitehall system would benefit from becoming more familiar with our propositions.

“As you may be aware, before the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, the then First Minister authorised offering pre-election contact to all political parties represented at Holyrood, including for example the Greens.

“Given the likely continuance of a hung parliament situation in the House of Commons, I believe that in advance of this general election it is time for Westminster to move towards the higher, more inclusive standards which prevail in the Scottish Parliament.”

Commons leader William Hague said civil servants will make plans for what could happen if the SNP prove influential after the election although the level of contact was not for the Government to decide.

Asked if the coalition would give the SNP access to the civil service, Mr Hague told Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live: “That will be up to the Cabinet Secretary.

“We are a very democratic county and we do indeed open up to opposition parties. We benefited from that before the last election.

“Those decisions are generally up to the senior civil servants and it’s not up to the Government in power whether to deny any cooperation or planning to people on the other side of politics so that is up to them.

“But I think this does illustrate a very important point – the SNP are preparing for that and Labour will not deny they will enter into a coalition with the SNP.”

Asked if the SNP should have access, the former Tory leader went on: “I’m not going to get drawn in to that. I think that is a judgment they have to make.

“The civil service has always had to plan for every possible election outcome. When I was secretary of state for Wales, the civil servants in the Welsh office planned for what would happen if Plaid Cymru had a decisive voice in government in 1997. That was very unlikely that was going to happen but that is the thoroughness of the civil servants.

“So they will have to plan for what happens if the SNP has the crucial balance of power. The degree of contact that involves between the civil service and the SNP has to be heavily up to them. So I’m going to dodge that one.”

SNP deputy leader Stewart Hosie, MP for Dundee East, told the same programme: “It’s only opinion poll evidence, but it’s now four, five months with the SNP having a consistent lead over Labour in Scotland and where at a UK level many, many of the polls are showing us in a pivotal position – a balance of power position.

“I think it makes perfect sense for the civil service to look at our manifesto when it’s published so if there is a deal to be done, if there’s discussions to be had, then they can be done on a proper professional technical level in terms of how we might be able to support a minority Labour administration.”

A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office said: “We can confirm that we have received the letter, it is a matter for the Prime Minister and he will respond in due course.”

Published: Sunday 22nd February 2015 by The News Editor

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