By a Newsnet Reporter
The SNP has called again for the release of Scotland's hidden devolution files in the interests of fairness and transparency during the debate on Scotland's independence referendum in 2014.
Over 30 files covering the Labour Government's 1997 devolution policy were set to be published at the start of the year under Scotland's 15-year rule, but have been kept under lock and key at the request of the Scotland Office.
The files were due to be released with almost 400 others until the Scotland Office intervened to stop the release of the 36 files relating to Tony Blair's Scottish Parliament proposals. The SO asked to inspect the documents before making a judgment at a later date on whether they can be published.
Brian Wilson, who was a Scottish Office minister in 1997, has said: "I am a supporter of maximum transparency and have no problem with anything that took place at that time coming into the public domain. It would be very strange if there had not been robust inter-departmental exchanges on such a significant piece of legislation."
However, a source close to the Scottish Government said the Scotland Office was cautious about releasing the files as it could provide a "gift" to the SNP, who would leap on any suggestion that ministers in the Blair government had watered down the devolution policy.
It is now seven weeks since Jamie Hepburn MSP first wrote to Alistair Darling asking asking former Labour MP to back calls for the UK government to release the files, but his letter has yet to be even acknowledged by the former UK chancellor - who was a government minister when the documents were compiled.
This renewed call comes a week after previously unpublished documents revealed that Rosyth naval dockyard lost out on a £5 billion naval contract in the 1990s after John Major's Tory government ignored evidence showing the Fife site was cheaper and safer to run than the eventual contract winner based in the south of England.
The Rosyth papers include claims by senior civil servants of the Ministry of Defence’s “south of England bias”, and were said by the SNP to demonstrate the MoD’s “utter disregard for Scotland”.
Mr Hepburn said:
“It is very strange that the UK Government wants to keep these files secret - it raises the question of what the Westminster system has to hide?
“The Chairman of the No campaign Alistair Darling must know, because he was a member of the then UK Labour Government when these files were compiled.
“I wrote to Mr Darling seven weeks ago calling on him to support my call for the files to be released - but he has not even had the courtesy to acknowledge the letter.
“The files relate to devolution, but may well contain information of relevance as we debate Scotland's future as an independent country. What Scotland needs is transparency so that people can make the most informed decision possible.
"I hope that Mr Darling will now support my call for the publication of Scotland's devolution files - otherwise people may start to ask what he has to hide?”