The UK government must release secret union polling after tribunal ruling

Following a two-year battle with the UK government, the Cabinet Office has finally been ordered by the courts to disclose their secret polling on independence and attitudes towards the Union – revealing what the Tories have been so desperate to keep hidden from the public.

I first made a Freedom of Information request back in June 2019, seeking information on what polling the UK government had been doing regarding the public perception of the union and demanding to know exactly how much of the public’s money had been spent on the Tories’ partisan polling.

The Cabinet Office refused, hiding behind an exemption clause in a thinnly veiled attempt to deny the public access to information that should’ve been freely available – no doubt hoping that SNP MPs would be put off by the first hurdle. I appealed to the Office of the Information Commissioner, arguing that since the UK government had no stated intention to review or alter policy regarding the union, the clause should not apply.

This week, the Information Rights Tribunal ruled that the UK government attempts to hide this information from the public was wrong and said that the polling “relates to the implementation of existing policy rather than to policy development.”

In short, the Cabinet Office must now disclose the information within 28 days and finally reveal the polling that has given Michael Gove and Boris Johnson such a fright.

The Cabinet Office has been hiding this data, claiming that they were developing policy. I have been clear from the start that this wasn’t the case – maintaining the Union is clearly an ongoing policy of the UK government – and the Tribunal has come to the same conclusion.

We have the right to know how much taxpayers’ money has been spent on the Tories’ polling and what exactly the polling says. If it’s paid for by the public, the results must be available to the public; otherwise, the UK government is simply using taxpayers’ money to further their own political ends.

I have long suspected that the UK government is determined to keep this polling secret because the results make uncomfortable reading for them and show widespread and engrained support for political control coming back to Scotland through independence. Now we shall see.

Not only do we need to see the data I originally asked for, but I also have today made a further FOI request for data that has been gathered in the past two years.

There are wider consequences to this decision too. The presumption should favour transparency, and only in exceptional circumstances should information not be disclosed when requested.

It should never have had to go to a tribunal to get this decision, and the whole process should not have taken two years.