NICOLA Sturgeon has been warned by her top official that holding a second independence referendum could have a negative impact on public services, a “bombshell” memo has revealed.

The previously secret note shows the First Minister was told preparing for the vote and its aftermath could have “wider implications” for the government’s business, including its legislative plans.

She was also told constitutional change could mean “de-prioritisation of activity”, and that officials would have to devote time to developing “robust plans” for after the referendum, including “transitional planning for moving to an independent Scotland”.

The Tories, who obtained the advice after a freedom of information battle, claimed it showed the First Minister’s pursuit of independence was stopping her “doing the day job”.

The Scottish Government initially blacked out significant sections of the memo, but it was compelled to release them after a ruling by the Scotland’s freedom of information watchdog.

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The four-page document was written by Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans shortly after the FM first announced plans for Indyref2 in March 2017.

Although Ms Sturgeon parked the plan after SNP losses in the 2017 election, she has since revived it, and is now aiming for a vote in late 2020, if Westminster grants Holyrood the power.

Addressed to Ms Sturgeon and then Constitution Secretary Derek Mackay, Ms Evans’s note said the civil service would help ministers on a vote as it was now the Government’s “settled policy”.

She wrote: “This minute sets the context for this decision and some of the key considerations that we will take into account as we support Ministers”.

In one of the initially redacted sections, she said officials would “seek to present Ministers with evidence and analysis, including on the wider implications that may arise from decisions and actions required to prepare for a referendum, whether individually or in aggregate.

“That analysis will include offering a view about the impact that delivering the referendum, and preparing for its outcome, might have on the Government’s wider programme of activity to deliver your Programme for Government commitments.

“However, we understand your strong commitment to delivery of the Government’s wider priorities and to the continued focus on education as the Government’s defining mission.”

Ms Evans said the civil service would have to “develop robust plans to ensure our readiness to implement either outcome of the referendum. That work will include transitional planning for moving to an independent Scotland.”

In another newly uncovered section headed Managing Constitutional Change, Ms Evans said officials would “identify where we see scope for de-prioritisation of activity”.

She wrote: “Preparing for both the referendum and for the UK’s departure from the EU will require focus and careful management. Work on a referendum will take place in parallel with work to prepare for the impact of exiting the European Union, following the PM’s notification today of her intent to pursue that outcome.

“We will ensure that Ministers have the support that they need in order to exert the maximum influence in the UK EU negotiations.

“We will continue our work to ensure that we are using the resources of the civil service to maximum effect and to identify where we see scope for de-prioritisation of activity and essential augmentation of skills or capacity - which would be made necessary by Brexit, notwithstanding the decision on the referendum.”

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The document was only unredacted after a year long battle which led to Scotland’s Information Commissioner forcing the government to release the information, as he could “identify no public interest in withholding it”.

Acting Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said: “The SNP tried to keep this document under wraps and it’s clear why. It shows that delivering Nicola Sturgeon’s referendum on independence won’t just divide our country all over again, it will push your school, your local hospital and your high street to the back of the queue.

“Instead of focusing on delivery, Sturgeon’s Nationalist government will be focused on division. And instead of sorting our Scotland’s schools, a referendum would see taxpayer-funded civil servants working on the ‘transition’ to independence.

“She said it would be once in a generation. It turns out it’s been every hour of every day since she lost. It’s a complete betrayal of the 2014 vote.

“With violent crime on the rise, hospital projects in tatters, and our education system failing to deliver, Nicola Sturgeon needs to listen for once. Dump the independence referendum, and focus on what really matters.”

Scottish LibDem spokesperson Wendy Chamberlain said: “We are facing crises in mental health and education but all of this will be shunted to one side by the SNP’s obsession with independence.

“Not a single patient will be treated more quickly nor a single child get a better education.

“The Nationalists gave it everything for the once in a lifetime vote but the partnership of the United Kingdom endured. We don’t need that chaos and uncertainty bringing back again.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, added: “These bombshell documents reveal the devastating impact of a divisive and unwanted second independence referendum on vital public services in Scotland.

“Another referendum would be a huge distraction for the civil service, meaning services such as schools and hospitals would be neglected.

“That’s why barely a quarter of people in Scotland support another contest before 2021 as threatened by Nicola Sturgeon.

“We don’t need another referendum, we need a government that focuses on the day job it was elected to do.”

A spokesperson for Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell said: “The only thing revealed here is the state of utter panic the Scottish Tories have been reduced to in their opposition to the independence referendum that they know is coming and which they know they are losing the argument on.

“We have been entirely open about the fact we are preparing for a referendum, and this material shows how, regardless of that, it is Brexit which is impacting on day to day work in other areas.

“For the Tories - whose Westminster bosses are a zombie government with no legislative programme at all - their comments are borderline delusional.”

Green MSP Patrick Harvie added: "We all know independence is coming, so it is absolutely appropriate that the civil service begins to prepare for the transition to becoming a new European nation. Especially since the Scottish Parliament voted for a Section 30 order [requesting referendum powers] in 2017.

"This correspondence reflects a productive process in preparing for potential change before the vote is even held.

"Contrast that with the utter chaos of the Tory-led Brexit, which saw ministers arriving in Europe for negotiations without a single page of notes and ended up in them being defeated in the Supreme Court.

"Brexit has sucked up immense time, energy and effort from other issues, and resulted in utter breakdown of any kind of coherent government in the UK. You’d think the Scottish Conservatives might have noticed that."