THE UK Government had been ordered to release “secret” polling on attitudes towards the Union and Scottish independence after an SNP MP won a Freedom of Information (FOI) appeal.

Tommy Sheppard originally called in 2019 for the Cabinet Office to release “all information relating to polling the general public on their perception on the strength of the Union since January 2018”.

The Edinburgh East MP also asked to be told the amount of public money spent on such polling.

However, Michael Gove's Cabinet Office refused, citing a get-out clause in the FOI law which allows them to keep hidden any information relating to the development of government policy.

Sheppard argued that the polling was not related to the development of policy, but rather to the attitudes of the public to an already implemented constitutional fact, namely the Union itself.

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An information tribunal has now ruled in the SNP MP’s favour, saying that the Cabinet Office’s arguments were “not wholly clear” and ordering it to release the information within 28 days.

The Tribunal found the UK Government was attempting “to present polling about the implementation of the established policy (maintaining the integrity of the Union), as activity relating to development of the policy, without explaining in what way the main policy might be developed or altered as a result”.

The Tribunal further found that, even if the "development of policy" exemption the Cabinet Office had attempted to use had been applicable, the public interest argument would likely have outweighed it.

The ruling said there is:

"(a) a clear public interest in seeing what information the Cabinet Office is using
to assess public attitudes to the Union;

"(b) a public interest in understanding more about any analysis the Cabinet Office
is undertaking regarding the strength of the Union;

"(c) a public interest in transparency regarding the use of public funds;

"(d) a clear public interest in knowing more about what that money paid for."

The Cabinet Office had also argued that as Sheppard's request had arrived just three days after they received the polling information, they had not had enough time to analyse it.

The Tribunal ruled that such arguments about timings were "not a matter which impacts on our deliberations".

The First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) Information Rights ruled that the information requested by Sheppard “relates to the implementation of existing policy rather than to policy development” and that the Cabinet Office must disclose the information within 28 days.

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Commenting, Sheppard (above) said: “This is a very welcome decision with significant consequences.

“The Cabinet Office has been hiding this data claiming that they were developing policy. I have been clear from the start that this wasn’t the case – maintaining the Union is clearly an ongoing policy of the UK Government – and the Tribunal has come to the same conclusion.

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“We have the right to know how much of taxpayers’ money has been spent on it, and what the polling says. If it’s paid for by the public, the results must be available to the public, otherwise the UK Government is using taxpayers’ money to further their own political ends.

“I have long suspected that the UK Government is determined to keep this polling secret because the results make uncomfortable reading for them and show widespread and engrained support for political control coming back to Scotland through independence. Now we shall see.

“Not only do we need to see the data I originally asked for, I have today made a further FOI request for data that has been gathered in the past two years.”

The news comes after calls for Michael Gove to face an ethics probe after his Cabinet Office's FOI practices were called into question, with allegations of certain people being blacklisted and information wrongly withheld.