MICHAEL Gove’s Union Unit has been warned it could face contempt of court accusations if it refuses to release secret polling on independence and attitudes to the Union by tomorrow evening.

A tribunal last month gave the Cabinet Office 28 days to make public the documents but to date the department has refused.

SNP MP Tommy Sheppard (below) issued a new warning last night as the deadline fast approached.

The National:

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“I don’t know why the Cabinet Office have not given the information already. It is not information they need to gather,” he said.

“It is information they have. They just need to press the send button.

“The deadline is up on Monday. They don’t have to take 28 days. They could release it at any time before then. The fact they appear to be dragging their feet does not indicate a lot of good grace.”

He said that the Cabinet Office had “very limited” grounds for appealing the decision but it was possible they would decide to do so.

He added: “If they did absolutely nothing they would be breaking the direction of the court. It would be for the court to decide if they were in contempt.

“They would certainly leave themselves open to that.”

The National made a request to the Cabinet Office, run by Gove, on June 16, two days after the ruling was sent to UK Government officials.

The paper asked to be given the documents, but the department refused indicating it would respond to the ruling “in due course”.

The Cabinet Office was dealt a major blow on June 14 after it was ordered to disclose the files following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Sheppard in June 2019, seeking details it had carried out on polling since January 2018 on public perception on the Union, including how much public money had been spent on it.

It refused, citing an exemption clause which related to providing a safe space for the development of government policy.

Sheppard appealed to the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO), arguing that since the UK Government had no stated intention to review or alter policy in respect of the Union, the clause should not apply.

The ICO sided with the Government and in February last year, Sheppard, the SNP MP for Edinburgh East, took the case to tribunal.

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In a victory for the SNP, the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) Information Rights ruled the information requested “relates to the implementation of existing policy rather than to policy development” and the Cabinet Office must disclose it within 28 days.

A UK Government spokesperson has previously told The National: “The UK Government regularly commissions research in different parts of the UK to understand public attitudes and behaviours to inform our campaigns and policies. This enables us to deliver strong national and cross-government communications campaigns, including to support the UK’s response and recovery from the pandemic. When considering making research public, we balance our commitment to transparency with the need for ministers to make decisions on the development of policy based on the data.”

Polls on independence have varied over the last year, with support reaching 58%. The latest poll put it at 48%.