Scottish independence: Government department denies using memo to tell staff to vote 'no' in referendum

The Department for Work and Pensions said the message referred to purdah

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The Independent Online

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has denied telling staff to vote “no” in the Scottish independence referendum in a memo urging them to “support the Government”.

The message came from the Whitehall department’s top civil servant, Robert Devereux.

The BBC reported the memo said: "It is important that, as civil servants, we understand why the Scottish independence referendum is different from elections such as a UK general election or a European election.

"This is because the UK Government has a clear position to maintain the union and so it is legitimate and necessary for UK civil servants to support the Government in this objective."

After allegations that the DWP was telling staff how to vote, the department insisted it was only setting out rules of the purdah period in the run-up to the referendum on 18 September.

Normally, no major decisions on policy can be made six weeks before the election, and announcements are restricted to the minimum of factual information to avoid biasing the upcoming ballot.

But in the case of the Scottish independence referendum, civil servants are still expected to support the Government’s stance to maintain the union in their work.

Dave Penman, general secretary of senior civil servants' union the FDA, said the memo was "ill judged".

"It is factually accurate but it probably could have been written a lot more sensitively," he added.

The quote above was part of a longer memo that included specific purdah guidance, a DWP spokesperson said.

Video: One month to go till decision day  

"Of course the department has not told its staff, or anyone else, how to vote," she added.

"It was an open letter to all DWP staff setting out Scottish referendum guidance and the role of the civil service.

"Similar advice has been issued by the Scottish Government."