I'm indebted to Stuart Dickson for pointing me in the direction of something rather extraordinary. The website for the Civil Service Fast Stream (intended for high-flying graduates with leadership potential) contains a number of testimonials from 'ambassadors'. One of them quite openly boasts about how joining the civil service offers young unionist-inclined graduates the opportunity to help deny Scotland independence, with the full weight of UK government resources behind them. Intriguingly, it suggests that not only will they somehow be doing this in an "impartial" manner, but that the whole process is "brilliant for gaining an insight" into how the "equilibrium of impartiality in the Civil Service" is maintained. And the title of this testimonial? "Saving the Union (as a civil servant)". I'm (almost) speechless.
But should we be angry about this? Well, yes and no. In one sense the 'ambassador' is quite correct - it is the job of civil servants to support and help deliver the policy of the government of the day, which in the UK government's case means opposing Scottish self-government. But a number of problems do spring to mind here -
1) How many times have we heard the particularly unhinged elements of the London media (ie. Cochrane and his ilk) raging about civil servants in Scotland following exactly the same principle, by supporting and helping to deliver the flagship policy of the Scottish government, ie. independence? We all know that when the No campaign talk about "the best of both worlds" what they really mean is having their cake and eating it in respect of their own rhetoric, but they haven't got a leg to stand on with this one. If the Civil Service are openly boasting about how their members work to thwart independence because that is the wish of their masters in the UK government, then it must by definition be right for civil servants working for the Scottish Government to wholeheartedly support the policy of independence, and to (in the words of the 'ambassador') provide "evidence-based analysis" of how it will make Scotland "stronger". Indeed, it would be a serious dereliction of their duty if they didn't.
2) How many times have we seen the London media treat UK government reports on independence as if they were dispassionate, neutral, objective analysis, while dismissing the equivalent Scottish government reports as little more than party propaganda? That double-standard can now go out of the window.
3) Have you noticed controversial Labour activist Duncan Hothersall repeatedly claim that the UK government have nothing whatever to do with the No campaign? Indeed, do you recall that when I asked Duncan if he would welcome Theresa May into the No campaign if she "joined", he feigned astonishment at the implication that it was even possible for her to do so? Nice try, Dunc (not really). This testimonial makes abundantly clear that not only is the UK government actively working to achieve a No vote, but that the 'impartial' civil service are expected to work towards that goal as well. In short, the full and unimaginable resources of the UK state are being used to persuade, frighten and bully Scots into voting No. To state the obvious, those resources completely dwarf the resources of the nominally official No campaign, let alone those of the Scottish government or the broader Yes camp. The UK government isn't part of the No campaign, Duncan, it IS the No campaign. And that government, lest we forget, is presided over by David Cameron. If he doesn't want to be seen as the hypocrite he is, he must now do one of two things - either a) own up to his role as No chief and agree to debate Alex Salmond on TV, or b) "butt out" of the debate altogether as Salmond so eloquently put it, and decree that for the remainder of the referendum campaign "civil service impartiality" will mean exactly that - scrupulous and demonstrable neutrality on the question of independence. And that should apply to his government ministers as well. But wait, I'm forgetting - being in the No campaign is all about having "the best of both worlds"...
4) If the Civil Service are going to put this kind of testimonial on their website, they really ought to balance it out with a testimonial from a civil servant working for the Scottish Government, perhaps entitled "Winning Self-Government for Scotland (as a civil servant)". As it is, it looks suspiciously like yet more of the propaganda that they openly admit their London masters expect them to pen on a regular basis.