SNP 'wasted £1.2m on lost cause'
He wastes it on lost causes whilst ignoring the Charter for Grandchildren.
By Andrew Whitaker
MORE than £1 million of taxpayers' cash has been "wasted" on paying for civil servants to work on the SNP government's campaign to promote independence, new figures have revealed.
• Alex Salmond is accused of blowing £1.2m to promote independence Picture: PA
A total of 13 civil servants were still being paid to work in the Scottish Government's National Conversation, Referendum and Elections Division, even though the SNP has dumped its plans for a referendum this parliament.
Labour, which obtained the figures up to the end of September 2010 in a reply to a parliamentary question, said wages, pensions and other costs associated with employing the staff totalled £1.2m over two years.
The National Conversation was launched by First Minister Alex Salmond in August 2007, just months after the SNP swept to power. Mr Salmond, speaking at the launch of the campaign, said that "no change was no longer an option".
However, Pauline McNeill, Scottish Labour's constitutional affairs spokeswoman, said the amount spent on staff costs for the National Conversation was "appalling" and accused Mr Salmond of being too frightened to hold a referendum.
She said: "Alex Salmond cannot justify squandering one more penny on the so-called National Conversation which has already cost taxpayers millions of pounds.
"This is an appalling waste of money on a department set up for a Bill that the SNP government dropped.
"This shows how out of touch the SNP really are. At a time when people are worried about their jobs, the SNP continue to fund civil servants to progress a political campaign for independence.
"Salmond chickened out of bringing the Referendum Bill forward because he knew there was little support for it and yet he's still got a small army of civil servants working away."
Tory finance spokesman Derek Brownlee accused Mr Salmond of squandering public funds on his "party political obsession". He said: "The SNP are constantly complaining about cuts - yet are quite happy to squander over half a million pounds a year on a National Conversation which has been reduced to a whisper.
"Not a penny more of taxpayers' money should be spent on his party political obsession.
"These are tough times - if the SNP can't think of a better way to spend this money, they could always take the radical step of saving it."
Scottish Liberal Democrat chief whip Mike Rumbles said taxpayers should not be footing the bill for the independence campaign. He said: "The SNP withdrew their doomed Referendum Bill but are still employing 13 people at the public's expense. What an appalling waste.
"Alex Salmond can't accept the National Conversation is over.
The public did not want it and certainly don't want to be paying for it months after it's finished."
However, Mr Salmond's office claimed the members of staff were involved in areas of work such as preparing for local government elections, alongsi
de the National Conversation brief.
A spokesman also claimed there were now 11 members of staff employed in the unit, rather than the 13 revealed in the figures for September 2010.
He said: "This is desperate stuff from Labour, who are just wrong. The reality is that the National Conversation, Referendum and Elections Division now has 11 members of staff, under a head of division who also covers another area of work.
"The division's work includes preparation for the next local government elections to ensure that there is no repeat of the problems encountered in 2007.
"The work includes a Bill currently before parliament to reform the management of local elections, procurement and testing of the electronic counting system, and preparation of the regulations governing things such as ballot paper design, proxy voting and the other detailed rules for the election.
"Other work includes supporting ministers on wider elections issues, and of course preparation of the Bill for a referendum on Scotland's constitutional future.
"It is also responsible for the co-ordination of the Scottish Government's interest in the UK government's proposed legislation to implement the recommendations of the Calman Commission on devolution.