THE report into civil service impartiality during the referendum campaign by the Public Administration Select Committee is welcome for two reasons. Firstly it will start a clarification of the rules surrounding what civil servants, special advisers and ministers can and cannot do around a referendum.

Secondly, it confirms what many of us have thought for the last year: Sir Nicholas Macpherson, Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, crossed a line when he published his letter about the currency union in February last year.

That letter, in which he said that a currency union would be fraught with difficulties, was political. The contents of that letter and its timing were political. Its release was not the action of an impartial public employee.

Advice between civil servants and ministers is supposed to be highly confidential. These letters are exempt from freedom of information requests. The decision to make this advice public was unquestionably political.

The committee’s report rightly calls on the Government to make sure that this does not happen again.

It is a damning report, and let us not forget where it came from – a committee made up of Tory, Labour and LibDem MPs. The two Scottish members of the committee are both

Labour MPs. Sir Nicholas might have expected an easy ride.

It’s also worth remembering that this report comes on the back of Treasury officials being told to cost Scottish Government policies based on the assumption of Tory and LibDem spin doctors. It comes after email trails showed concerted planning between Better Together and civil servants at the Treasury.

Every civil servant has to sign up to the civil service code. Every civil servant has to agree to not “act in a way that is determined by party political considerations”. Every civil servant must not “use official resources for party political purposes”.

Absolutely, the civil service should work for the government of the day, but the Treasury, and indeed the Scottish Government, need to remember that they are not directly employed by the Tories, the SNP, the Labour Party or the LibDems.

All-women shortlists are regrettably needed

ALL-WOMEN shortlists should not be necessary in 2015. We should be able to select candidates purely on merit. The best person should get the job.

But that means, unless you think women are not capable, that 52 per cent of candidates for election should be women.

Clearly, that is not the case.

We can understand why local parties are resistant to all-women shortlists. It feels like a little bit of the decision making, a little bit of the power, is being taken away from local branches and more control is being given to the centre.

But there simply aren’t enough women attempting to stand for parliament. The system is broken.

One effective way to address that is through all-women shortlists. That the Labour Party, who have all-women shortlists, have twice as many women MPs as the Conservative Party, who do not, is proof of that.