A SCOTTISH MP involved in a two-year freedom of information battle over the UK Government’s secret polling on the Union has notched up another victory after a judge refused the Cabinet Office permission to appeal against a First Tier Tribunal (FTT) ruling that it should disclose the information.

Tommy Sheppard, the SNP’s constitutional affairs spokesperson at Westminster, said the decision was a “full frontal slap-down” to the department.

He told The National: “Why don’t they just stop digging now? How much more taxpayers’ money are they going to waste?”

Since 2019, the Edinburgh East MP has been using FOI legislation to try to get hold of taxpayer-funded research on public attitudes to the Union, and details on the questioning and its costs.

However, the Cabinet Office, headed by Michael Gove, has tried to block it at every opportunity and sought permission to appeal against an FTT decision that it should disclose the information requested.

It tried to appeal on two grounds, first that the FTT had erred in finding that section 35(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) “was not engaged”. The two sections of the second ground related to the public interest test.

In today’s written decision refusing the department permission to appeal, Upper Tribunal Judge Nicholas Wikeley said: “The Upper Tribunal will give permission to appeal only if there is a realistic prospect of an appeal succeeding, unless there is some other good reason to do so … In my assessment, Ground 1, while eloquently articulated, is at heart an attempt to re-argue the case on its factual merits (or, in the Applicant’s peculiar circumstances, to argue for the first time in a tribunal forum).

“I am not persuaded it is arguable that the FTT erred in law in its approach to the section 35(1)(a) issue, where the questions that arise are part of the daily bread and butter of this tribunal.”

Wikeley added: “Third, and furthermore in any event, it seems to me that the grounds of appeal involve some cherry-picking of the FTT’s reasons and fail properly to consider the points made in paragraphs 29-32 of the reasons in their full context.

“For all the above reasons, I refuse this application for permission to appeal.

“I am driven to the conclusion that that what the Applicant really wants to do is re-run the first appeal (which it could have participated in but elected not to do so) on the facts because it strongly disagrees with the conclusions and judgment properly made by the FTT.”

Sheppard said he was not sure what the Cabinet Office would try next.

“They don’t seem to understand we have a Freedom of Information system, or think it doesn’t apply to them, or realise how important it is” he said.

“They must be running out of options and they may take it to the Supreme Court, and that will mean them spending more taxpayers’ money.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK Government regularly commissions research in different parts of the UK to understand public attitudes  to inform our campaigns and policies in development. The Scottish Government also conducts similar research for the same reasons. We will set out our response to this decision in due course”.