THE Scottish Conservatives have urged a probe into the alleged “politicisation” of the civil service in Scotland.

Permanent secretary John-Paul Marks, Scotland’s most senior civil servant, has been urged to launch an investigation into an email revealed by the Covid inquiry which the Tories said showed a top civil servant acting in a “nakedly political” way.

The email was sent by the Scottish Government’s director of external affairs Scott Wightman during the pandemic and came during an exchange about whether to add Spain to Scotland’s quarantine list.

He objected to its addition to the list saying that although the decision may be made for health reasons, the Spanish government may hold a grudge and block a future independent Scotland from joining the EU.

Wightman wrote: “Spain is now being held to a much higher level of scrutiny and performance than other countries […] The Spanish Government will conclude it is entirely political; they won't forget; there is a real possibility they will never approve EU membership for an independent Scotland as a result.”

The email was sent on July 19, 2020 and Spain was shortly afterwards removed from the quarantine list, only to be added back on July 25.

Then-justice secretary Humza Yousaf said at the time: “The decision to exempt Spain earlier this week, was taken when the data showed there was an improvement in the spread of the virus. But clearly the latest data has given us cause for concern to overturn that decision.”

The National: Conservative MSP Donald Cameron

Donald Cameron (above), the Scottish Conservatives’ constitution spokesperson, said the email was “illustrative of a culture within the Scottish Government which is focused overwhelmingly on independence”.

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In his letter to Marks, the Tory MSP added: “It is deeply troubling that a civil servant would appear concerned about what is, nakedly, a political priority of the Scottish National Party, rather than about the public health implications of exempting Spain from quarantine restrictions.

“The Civil Service code (which all Scottish Government employees must abide by) is very clear: civil servants must not ‘allow your personal political views to determine any advice you give or your actions’.

“Given that applying for EU membership cannot possibly be within the remit of a Scottish Government civil servant, it seems very likely that this statement from Mr Wightman was an expression of a political view.”

Speaking at FMQs this week, Yousaf strenuously denied there were political motives to the Scottish Government's approach to Spain during the pandemic. 

He said: "To suggest the decision around Spain was made for any other reason than epidemiology I’m afraid is an absolute fantasy.

"Even if we accepted Douglas Ross’s example or framing of the situation that we were attempting to look at this through a constitutional lens, and trying to curry favour with Spain, then surely we would have put them on the exempt list. We didn’t put them on the exempt list."

READ MORE: Jason Leitch said Tory MSP acted 'like a child', WhatsApps reveal

Cameron asked whether the email had been investigated by Marks’s predecessor, permanent secretary Leslie Evans, and called for an investigation if one had not already taken place.

He added: “The public’s confidence in the Scottish Government’s impartiality is paramount, and risks being damaged by the remarks made in this email.”

In a statement released by the Tories, Cameron accused Wightman – a former Foreign Office diplomat – of “going native”.

He said: “Civil servants have a duty to be politically neutral yet it’s clear that many are, or were, acting in the SNP’s political interests.

“This is wrong. Of course, the danger of civil servants ‘going native’ is not helped when SNP ministers deploy them on areas that are outwith the Scottish Government’s remit, such as their independence propaganda papers.”

Cameron also raised concerns about the conduct of national clinical director Jason Leitch, who had complained about opposition MSPs in a text conversation with Yousaf and Ken Thomson, who reminded colleagues to delete their WhatsApp messages.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Throughout the pandemic the prime focus and intention of ministers, clinicians and officials across the Scottish Government was to protect the people of Scotland from the harms of Covid-19, as noted in the closing statement made to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry Module 2A hearings. 

"The Permanent Secretary will respond to the letter received in due course.”