PRESS RELEASE: UK GOVERNMENT ORDERED TO RELEASE SECRET UNION POLLING
|For immediate release: Tuesday 15th June 2021
UK GOVERNMENT ORDERED TO RELEASE SECRET UNION POLLING
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION TRIBUNAL UPHOLDS SNP MP’s APPEAL
The Cabinet Office has been ordered to disclose information about polling on public attitudes to the Union following a two-year battle led by SNP MP Tommy Sheppard.
The party’s Constitutional Affairs Spokesperson first made a Freedom of Information request in June 2019 seeking information on polling since January 2018 on public perception on the union, including how much public money had been spent on it.
The Cabinet Office 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 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 2020 the SNP MP then took the case to Tribunal. This week, 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.
Commenting on the ruling, SNP MP Tommy Sheppard 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.
“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.
“There are wider consequences to this decision too. The presumption should be in favour of transparency and only in exceptional circumstances should information not be disclosed when requested. It should never have had to go to a tribunal to get this decision, and the whole process should not have taken two years.”
The decision from the tribunal can be found here - https://mcusercontent.com/4fae14f57a18ee08253ffc251/files/66a62911-4e64-64df-8c88-830300d53470/012_110621_Decision.pdf