Nicola Sturgeon says SNP should join pre-election civil service briefings

Nicola Sturgeon

The first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has written to the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, asking to be invited to pre-election policy talks with the civil service.

Traditionally, opposition parties are invited to confidential talks so they can brief civil servants on their policy agenda and be introduced to Whitehall’s systems. The prime minister usually writes to parties to invite them to such talks.

“I understand that the prime minister wrote to Ed Miliband last year offering such pre-election contact to the Labour party,” wrote Sturgeon.

“Of course, no one political party has an overall majority in the existing House of Commons, and consistent polling evidence indicates that a hung or balanced parliament will also be the outcome of the general election in May.

“In these circumstances, all political parties with a presence in the House of Commons may well be in a position of power and influence in the next parliament, and therefore it would be appropriate to offer such contact beyond the main opposition party.”

Sturgeon argues that the Whitehall system would benefit from becoming more familiar with the Scottish National party’s propositions, including ending austerity and cancelling the renewal of Trident.

The leader of the Commons, William Hague, said that the civil service had to plan for every eventual outcome, but that it would be up to the cabinet secretary to decide whether the SNP should be invited to talks.

“We are a very democratic country and we do indeed open up to opposition parties. We benefited from that before the last election,” he said.

“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.”

Speaking on Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live, Hague argued that Sturgeon’s letter was evidence that the SNP was preparing to enter a coalition with Labour in Westminster.

He added: “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. It 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.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Sunday 22nd February 2015 16.04 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010