A FORMER Treasury permanent secretary who advised George Osborne to reject a currency union during the 2014 referendum campaign has been appointed to the new council tasked with drawing up a 10-year national strategy for the “economic transformation” of Scotland.

Sir Nick Macpherson is one of 17 people on the council tasked with putting forward "bold ideas on how to transform the Scottish economy".

Other members include John Lewis chair Sharon White, University of Glasgow principal Anton Muscatelli, STUC general secretary Roz Foyer, and SNP Dundee Council leader John Alexander.

READ MORE: Scottish Greens call UK Government an 'embarrassment' over Shetland oil project

However, it is Macpherson's appointment which has raised eyebrows in the Yes community, with some saying it raises questions about the SNP leadership's commitment to independence.

Reacting to the news, activist and Common Weal contributor Jonathan Shafi tweeted: "Sir Nick Macpherson has joined a new advisory council drawing up a 10-year national strategy for the 'economic transformation' of Scotland.

"This the man who advised [George] Osborne on weaponising currency in the 2014 indyref. SNP are totally wedded to neoliberalism and establishment."

As the Treasury permanent secretary, Macpherson “strongly” advised Osborne against the SNP’s plan for a currency union after independence under which Scotland and the rest of the UK would share the pound.

In a highly unusual move, his memo to the Chancellor, which would normally have been secret, was published at the time.

In it, Macpherson said a currency union between two sovereign states would be “fraught with difficulty” and liable to fall apart because of political differences.

“I would advise strongly against a currency union as currently advocated, if Scotland were to vote for independence,” he wrote.

He also said Scotland’s banking sector was “far too big” relative to national income, leaving the UK “at risk of providing taxpayer support to the Scottish financial sector".

The SNP’s estimates for North Sea oil revenue were “persistently optimistic”, he added.

It led to Osborne (below) giving a speech in Edinburgh which was seen as a turning point in the referendum campaign.

The National: George Osborne has failed his way from one position of authority to another

“If Scotland walks away from the UK, it walks away from the UK pound,” the Chancellor said in February 2014, ensuring the Yes campaign was dogged by questions about currency and economic competence all the way to the vote.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the line of civil service neutrality had been crossed.

In 2015, Macpherson defended his action, saying that in an “extreme” case, when “people are seeking to destroy the fabric of the state”, the usual rules of neutrality don’t apply.

But in 2016, he wrote for the Financial Times on how Brexit presented an "extraordinary opportunity" for Scotland to bring in skills and investment. 

He said the First Minister had improved the Government's "fiscal credibility" and and added that leaving the EU “changes [the] terms of debate north of the Border”.

Sturgeon responded by saying: “This from Nicholas Macpherson, the chief architect of the Treasury’s anti-Indy stance in 2014, is quite something.”

Independence campaign group All Under One Banner tweeted to ask: "Why is Nicola Sturgeon employing ultra-Unionists to work on a 10-year strategy for the 'economic transformation' of Scotland?

"We were recently told, pre election, that indryref2 will happen in the first half of this parliamentary term, was that a lie?"

National contributor George Kerevan also criticised the decision, saying it was "final validation" that indyref2 is not coming any time soon.

The former SNP MP wrote: "The appointment of ex-Treasury boss and arch Unionist Nick Macpherson as a senior economic adviser to the Scottish Government is the final validation there will be no independence referendum under the present SNP administration."

Here are the 17 members of the newly announced council:

- Maggie McGinlay, CEO of Energy Transition Zone.

- Lynne Cadenhead, Chair of Women’s Enterprise Scotland.

- Chris van der Kuyl, founder, owner and chairman of 4J Studios.

- Sean McGrath, CEO of Entrepreneurial Scotland.

- Dame Sharon White, chair of John Lewis Partnership.

- Mark Logan, tech expert and former COO of Skyscanner.

- Nick MacPherson, former permanent secretary to the Treasury.

- Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal of the University of Glasgow.

- Jamie Grant, managing director and head of corporate banking Scotland, Barclays.

- Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Unions Congress (STUC).

- Professor Graeme Roy, dean of external engagement at University of Glasgow.

- Jackie Brierton, CEO of GrowBiz.

- Cllr John Alexander, chair of Scottish Cities Alliance and leader of Dundee Council.

- Mark Blyth, director of the William R. Rhodes Centre for International Economics and Finance at Brown University.

- Mariana Mazzucato, professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value, University College London, and founder of the UCL Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose.

- Emma Parton, founder of Highland Soap company.

READ MORE: Economist Mark Blyth: ‘I’m now a convert to Scottish independence’

Commenting on the announcement of the new advisory council, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said: “As we emerge from the pandemic, we must work together to seize Scotland’s potential and build an economy for everyone by delivering greater, greener and fairer prosperity.

“The pandemic has led to fundamental shifts in sectors such as retail, and changed the way many businesses operate with more online trading and remote working. We need to build on these innovations and guide our economy to the industries and opportunities of the future.

“Our 10-year National Strategy for Economic Transformation will utilise the expertise of business, trade unions and economists to deliver a focused plan of actions and projects to help transform our economy and help us reach net zero."

Forbes will also chair the advisory council.