Publication - FOI/EIR release

Correspondence concerning what question should be used in a future independence referendum: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Published:
6 Dec 2019
Correspondence concerning what question should be used in a future independence referendum: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/201900006184
Date received: 7 Nov 2019
Date responded: 4 Dec 2019
Information requested

You asked for:

A copy of all evidence and internal Scottish Government and Ministerial communications relating to the research and evidence that has been used to support the Cabinet Secretary's claim that the majority of people agree the same question should be used in a future independence referendum.

Response

It may be useful to explain that the claim made by the Cabinet Secretary was based on a poll that was conducted by Survation on behalf of Progress Scotland.

Survation publish tables of results from all of their polls on their website. Results tables from 2019 polls are here: https://www.survation.com/archive/2019-2/. If you scroll to 21st October 2019, you will see an entry for the Progress Scotland results tables. The poll was reported in the Herald, the Courier, and the Scotsman.

Link to results tables: https://www.survation.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Progress-Scotland-tables.xlsx)

Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you. If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the website listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.

In addition to this explanation, I have also enclosed a copy of some information you requested relating to internal Scottish Government and Ministerial communications relating to the research. I have attached this information separately. Some information has been removed as it is not within the scope of your request.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested because exemptions under section s.38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information), section 29(1)(a) of FOISA (formulation or development of government policy) and section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) applies to that information. The reasons why that exemption applies is explained in the Annex.

ANNEX
An exemption applies
An exemption under section s.38(1)(b) of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested. This information relates to the names and contact details of Scottish Government staff below senior civil service level and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018.

This exemption is not subject to the ‘public interest test’, so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

An exemption applies
An exemption under section 29(1)(a) of FOISA (formulation or development of government policy) applies to some of the information requested because it relates to the formulation of the Scottish Government’s policy on testing questions previously assessed by the Electoral Commission.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in high quality policy and decision-making, and in the properly considered implementation and development of policies and decisions. This means that Ministers and officials need to be able to consider all available options and to debate those rigorously, to fully understand their possible implications. Their candour in doing so will be affected by their assessment of whether the discussions on testing questions previously assessed by the Electoral Commission will be disclosed in the near future, when it may undermine or constrain the Government’s view on that policy while it is still under discussion and development.

An exemption applies
An exemption under section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank provision of advice. This exemption recognises the need for officials to have a private space within which to provide free and frank advice to Ministers before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of free and frank advice on testing questions previously assessed by the Electoral Commission will substantially inhibit the provision of such advice in the future, particularly because these discussions are still ongoing and final decisions have not been taken, as the Cabinet Secretary set out at the Stage 2 consideration of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in allowing a private space within which officials can provide full and frank advice to Ministers, as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government’s position on testing questions previously assessed by the Electoral Commission, until the Government as a whole can adopt a decision that is sound and likely to be effective. This private thinking space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, based on the best available advice, so that good decisions can be taken. Premature disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between Ministers and officials, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.

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Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
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