Publication - Advice and guidance

Shetland Islands by-election: guidance for civil servants

Published: 16 Jul 2019

Scottish Parliament by-election, Shetland Islands 29 August 2019: guidance on conduct for Scottish Government civil servants.

16 Jul 2019
Shetland Islands by-election: guidance for civil servants

Civil servants should not undertake any activity which could call into question their political impartiality or give rise to the criticism that public resources are being used for party political purposes.

Application of this principle needs to be considered particularly carefully during election periods. 

A by-election for the Shetland Islands constituency in the Scottish Parliament will be held on Thursday, 29 August 2019. 

This note contains guidance to civil servants working in the Scottish Government, its agencies and Non-Ministerial Offices and for staff and members of national devolved public bodies on their role and conduct during the by-election campaign. 

The period of sensitivity preceding Scottish Parliament by-elections is not fixed to any particular date, but the general convention is that particular care should be taken in the three weeks preceding the by-election – in this case from 8 to 29 August

During the period of sensitivity, Scottish Government staff need to exercise particular care in respect of Government activity that impacts on the Shetland Islands constituency. 

During a by-election campaign, the Scottish Parliament is not dissolved, and the business of the Scottish Government continues as usual. National (i.e. Scotland-wide) announcements and events, including regional announcements and events, should continue as normal. 

There is, however, a strong presumption against government announcements or activity in or concerning the Shetland Islands constituency during the period of sensitivity leading up to the by-election. Staff will therefore need to be particularly alert to the possible impact that Scottish Government activity could have on the by-election campaign in the Shetland Islands. Any proposals which may run counter to these principles will need to be discussed and cleared with Cabinet Secretariat. 

The following general principles should be observed by all staff (including Special Advisers, who are temporary civil servants): 

  • particular care should be taken over official support, and the use of public resources, including publicity, for Ministerial and official announcements which could have a bearing on matters relevant to the by-election. In some cases, it may be better to defer an announcement until after the by-election, but this would need to be balanced carefully against any implication that deferral could itself influence the political outcome. Each case should be considered on its individual merits
  • similar care and consideration should also be taken in relation to proposed visits
  • there should be even-handedness in meeting information requests from the different political parties and campaigning groups
  • officials should not be asked to provide new arguments for use in any by-election campaign debates
  • in case of doubt about the application of these guidelines, staff should seek immediate advice from Cabinet Secretariat, who will refer to the Permanent Secretary as required

Special advisers

Detailed guidance on the restrictions on special advisers’ involvement in political activities is set out in the Code of conduct for Special Advisers working in the Scottish Government.

Further guidance

If you have any queries about activity during this period, please e-mail the Cabinet Secretariat inbox or call ext 43579 (0131 244 3579).  Cabinet Secretariat will seek the advice of the Permanent Secretary, as required.

This guidance is also being placed in the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe).



Email: Cabinet Secretariat