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Tories appeal ruling to release secret polling on the Union as deadline expires

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MICHAEL Gove’s Union Unit has refused to release secret polling on attitudes to the Union following a legal order to make the information public.

The move follows a tribunal ruling last month which gave the Cabinet Office 28 days to hand over the documents.

Gove’s department decided to appeal the decision last night as the deadline set by the panel expired.

A UK Government spokesman told The National: “We disagree with the tribunal’s conclusions and have requested permission from the court to appeal. On that basis the information has not been released.”

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READ MORE: UK Government ordered to release ‘secret’ Scottish independence polling

The Cabinet Office was dealt a major blow on June 14 after it was ordered to disclose the files following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by SNP MP Tommy Sheppard (below) in June 2019, seeking details it had carried out on polling since January 2018 on public perception on the Union, including how much public money had been spent on it.

It refused, citing an exemption clause which related to providing a safe space for the development of government policy.

The National made a request to the Cabinet Office, run by Gove, on June 16, two days after the ruling was sent to UK Government officials.

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This paper asked to be given the documents, but the department refused to do so indicating it would respond to the ruling “in due course”.

Sheppard appealed to the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO), arguing that since the UK Government had no stated intention to review or alter policy in respect of the Union, the clause should not apply.

The ICO sided with the Government and in February last year, Sheppard, the SNP MP for Edinburgh East, took the case to tribunal.

In a victory for the SNP, the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) Information Rights ruled the information requested “relates to the implementation of existing policy rather than to policy development” and the Cabinet Office must disclose it within 28 days.

Polls on independence have varied over the last year, with support reaching 58%. The latest poll put it at 48%.

Sheppard, who is his party’s constitutional affairs spokesman at Westminster, accused the Cabinet Office last month of acting like a “sore loser” and said the polling surveys should be made public immediately.

READ MORE: Tommy Sheppard demands ‘secret’ polling is released as deadline approaches

“This is quite disgraceful, they are acting like sore losers,” Sheppard said.

“They should have the good grace to admit defeat and accept when the court tells them they are wrong. They may well be putting themselves in a position where they are contemptuous of the court.”

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He added: “They can appeal on the grounds of procedure arguing that the tribunal didn’t make its consideration properly in some way. They can’t appeal on the substance.

“They should hand over the files right away and should not wait 28 days to do so. They should show humility and good grace.”

The ruling was the latest setback for Gove, who was slammed by a judge earlier last month for a “profound lack of transparency” and was ordered to release internal files shedding light on a secretive unit that handles Freedom of Information requests.

The developments also follow a successful long running freedom of information battle between The National and the Scotland Office in obtaining UK Government files dating back to the planning of the devolution referendum in 1997.

SNP response to follow.

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