- 25 Nov 2020
Date received: 8 Oct 2020
Date responded: 5 Nov 2020
Copies of correspondence (emails, texts, whatsapp messages, written notes, minutes of calls, minutes of meetings and/or otherwise) between civil servants and/or Special Advisors and/or members of the Scottish Government Cabinet regarding the need to update the ‘Scotland’s Future’ paper originally published in November 2013.
Some of the information you have requested is enclosed in Annex A.
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance, exemptions under Sections 29(1)(a) – Formulation or development of government policy and 30(b)(i) Free and Frank Provision of Advice of FOISA apply to some of the information requested. The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained in Annex B.
This is an extract from a document sent by civil servants to Ministers. It is provided as an extract because the document contains other information outwith the scope of your request.
5 September 2019: PfG (page 21): “The Scottish Government produced a comprehensive plan for an independent Scotland in 2014. The Government will now undertake the necessary work to update that plan and ensure that people have the information they need to make informed choices over the future of the country.”
The Scottish Government will update the plan for independence published in 2014 to ensure people have the information they need to make informed choices over the future of the country
Unlike the UK Government’s approach to Brexit, we will engage in an open, respectful and inclusive discussion with the people of Scotland on key issues such as currency, Scotland’s place in Europe, our borders and the approach to transition to an independent country
REASONS FOR NOT PROVIDING INFORMATION
Section 29(1)(a) – formulation or development of government policy
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 development of the Scottish Government’s policy on independence.
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 independence policy development 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.
Section 30(b)(i) – free and frank provision of advice
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 independence policy development will substantially inhibit the provision of such advice in the future, particularly because these discussions are still ongoing and decisions have not been taken, and these discussions relate to a sensitive or controversial issue such as Scotland’s constitutional future.
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 independence policy development, until the Government as a whole can adopt a policy 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 policy 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 policy making process, which would not be in the public interest.
The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.
Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrews House