CIVIL servants began secretly working behind the scenes two years ago to pave the way for Scotland to be set up as an independent country, Scottish Government documents have dramatically revealed.

The bombshell memo written by civil service chief Leslie Evans to Nicola Sturgeon and copied to John Swinney and Derek Mackay informed the First Minister that officials would prepare for arrangements for a “transition” period between a Yes vote and the creation of the new state.

In it the Permanent Secretary wrote: “It will be important too for the civil service to develop robust plans to ensure our readiness to implement either outcome of the referendum. That work will include transitional planning for moving to an independent Scotland.”

The memo was sent by Evans on 29 March 2017 – two weeks after the First Minister announced her plans to hold a second referendum between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of the following year.

Amid the turmoil of Brexit she later dropped plans to hold a vote in that timescale and subsequently set out proposals for a second independence vote in late next year.

The memo also reveals Evans telling the First Minister that work on the referendum would be carried out alongside work on EU withdrawal as well as work on education and implementation of its wider policy agenda.

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“We will also seek to present ministers with evidence and analysis, including on the wider implications that may arise from decisions and actions required to prepare for a referendum, whether individually or in aggregate.

“That analysis will include offering a view about the impact that delivering the referendum, and preparing for its outcome, might have on the Government’s wider programme of activity to deliver your Programme for Government commitments. However, we understand your strong commitment to delivery of the Government’s wider priorities and to the continued focus on education as the Government’s defining mission.”

It went on: “Preparing for both the referendum and for the UK’s departure from the EU will require focus and careful management. Work on a referendum will take place in parallel with work to prepare for the impact of exiting the European Union, following the PM’s notification today of her intent to pursue that outcome. We will ensure that Ministers have the support that they need in order to exert the maximum influence in the UK EU negotiations.”

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The memo also warned some areas of Scottish Government work would have to take a back seat – as some would have to do anyway to cope with Brexit – as planning intensified for the referendum and its aftermath.

“We will continue our work to ensure that we are using the resources of the civil service to maximum effect and to identify where we see scope for de-prioritisation of activity and essential augmentation of skills or capacity – which would be made necessary by Brexit, notwithstanding the decision on the referendum,” it said.

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The memo was obtained by the Scottish Conservatives under freedom of information legislation. Acting leader Jackson Carlaw said: “The SNP tried to keep this document under wraps and it’s clear why. It shows that delivering Nicola Sturgeon’s referendum on independence won’t just divide our country all over again, it will push your school, your local hospital and your high street to the back of the queue.”

A spokesman for Constitutional Affairs Secretary Mike Russell hit back: “The only thing revealed here is the state of utter panic the Scottish Tories have been reduced to in their opposition to the independence referendum that they know is coming and which they know they are losing the argument on. We have been entirely open about the fact we are preparing for a referendum, and this material shows how, regardless of that, it is Brexit which is impacting on day to day work in other areas.”

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “We all know independence is coming, so it is absolutely appropriate that the civil service begins to prepare for the transition to becoming a new European nation.”