MICHAEL Gove’s Union Unit has been told it faces being in contempt of court if it continues to refuse to release secret polling on independence despite a court order.

The warning comes from SNP MP Tommy Sheppard who led a two year battle to make public the confidential files on public attitudes to independence and the Union.

He spoke out after The National made a request to the Cabinet Office, run by Gove, yesterday asking to be given the polling documents, but it refused indicating it would respond to the ruling “in due course”.

Sheppard, who is his party’s constitutional affairs spokesman at Westminster, accused the Cabinet Office of acting like a “sore loser” and said the polling surveys should be made public immediately.

"This is quite disgraceful, they are acting like sore losers,” Sheppard said.

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“They should have the good grace to admit defeat and accept when the court tells them they are wrong. They may well be putting themselves in a position where they are contemptuous of the court.”

He added: “They can appeal on the grounds of procedure arguing that the tribunal didn’t make its consideration properly in some way. They can’t appeal on the substance.

“They should hand over the files right away and should not wait 28 days to do so. They should show humility and good grace.”

The Cabinet Office was dealt a major blow earlier this week 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, hiding behind 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.

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

Responding to The National’s request for the polling information, a UK Government spokeswoman said: “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.”

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Sources indicated the department are considering the tribunal decision and that they will set out their response in due course.

The ruling was the latest setback for Gove, who was slammed by a judge last week for a “profound lack of transparency” and was ordered to release internal files shedding light on a secretive unit that handles Freedom of Information requests.

Last Tuesday, it was announced that the Cabinet Office had lost a legal bid to block the release of documents relating to its “Freedom of Information clearing house”, located in Whitehall. An investigation by the OpenDemocracy website suggested that the secretive unit was being used to potentially blacklist journalists and campaigners seeking information under transparency laws – which would be unlawful.

The Cabinet Office has also refused to release documents elaborating on how the unit is run and what it does.

The developments also follow a successful long running freedom of information battle between The National and the Scotland Office in obtaining UK Government files dating back to the planning of the devolution referendum in 1997.