THE UK Government is “spending money like there’s no tomorrow” hiring one of the UK’s most senior lawyers to block the release of its secret polling on the Union, the SNP MP fighting the case has said.

Tommy Sheppard has been involved in a three-year battle with the Cabinet Office over the publication of the publicly-funded polling, which the Tories have been determined to prevent.

At a tribunal held in June 2021, the Westminster government was ordered to publish the data within 28 days under Freedom of Information laws. However, it has persistently refused, and on Tuesday went to court to seek leave to appeal for the third time.

READ MORE: 'Desperate' Tory bid to block release of secret Union polling heads to court

Sheppard told The National that the tribunal hearing had felt like “going through the motions” and that, to his mind, the Tories had been making “exactly the same arguments” as they have been for years.

One key difference in Tuesday’s case was the presence of a high-powered QC representing the government.

The National:

Sheppard said that the prescence of Sir James Eadie QC (above), who had previously only contributed written opinions, showed the Tories were spending a lot of public cash on their determination to keep the polling a secret.

The Guardian reported in 2013 that Eadie had been paid £2.2m over three years for representing the government in legal cases.

Based at Blackstone Chambers, Eadie’s biography states: “In the profession, he is called the ‘Treasury Devil’. As such, he is the QC to whom the Government turn first for their major pieces of advice and litigation.”

He previously represented the Tory government in cases including the Article 50 litigation and the prorogation of parliament.

The UK Government is currently trying to argue that it does not have to release the secret polling due to Section 35.1 of the Freedom of Information Act. This says that files do not have to be published if they relate to “the formulation or development of government policy”.

READ MORE: Cabinet Office spent more than average UK annual salary to protect secretive unit

However, the tribunal against which the Tories are seeking leave to appeal found this exemption was not relevant as the UK Government had been unable to explain “in what way the main policy [the Union] might be developed or altered as a result”.

Sheppard (below), the SNP MP for Edinburgh East, told The National: “The Cabinet Office is hell-bent on keeping this information secret and they are willing to pay obscene amounts of taxpayer money to achieve that goal.

The National:

“This whole battle could have been prevented – and taxpayer money saved – if the Cabinet Office simply handed over the polling data as the First-tier Tribunal instructed them to do.”

Sheppard previously told The National that if the Tories were able to successfully argue the Section 35.1 defence in another hearing “basically the whole Freedom of Information legislation [would be] rendered useless”.

If Tuesday’s upper tribunal finds in Sheppard’s favour – with a ruling not expected for days or even weeks yet – the Tories will be left with the option of escalating the matter to the Supreme Court, and vice versa.

Asked if he would take the case to such a high level, Sheppard said: “Yes, I’m taking this all the way.

“If the tribunal were to judge in [the UK Government’s favour] they are essentially rendering the whole Freedom of Information apparatus impotent.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson told The National: “The UK Government regularly commissions research across the UK to understand public attitudes and behaviours to inform our campaigns, policies and to ensure we are delivering for people and families across the whole of the United Kingdom.

“The Scottish Government also conducts similar research for the same reasons and we maintain that it is in the public interest to preserve a safe space for the development of policy and the provision of advice to ministers.”