NICOLA Sturgeon's government has increased spending to more than £9 million on its network of offices across the world ahead of plans to hold a second independence referendum, newly published figures show.

The data, released in response to a Freedom of Information request and published today, reveals that the cost of running the bureau has risen from just over £8m during 2021/2022.

The First Minister intends to stage a new referendum by the end of next year, Covid permitting, with a key promise to take Scotland back into the European Union as an independent country.

READ MORE: SNP and Greens to draw up joint independence plans for 2023 referendum

However, doubts exist whether the vote will happen and in that timescale. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to agree a new referendum - as former PM David Cameron did ahead of the 2014 vote - and there is continued uncertainty over new Covid variants emerging.

Ms Sturgeon has said she will 'do all in her power' to hold Indyref2 next year and has said she will use Holyrood legislation to stage it, should Johnson continue to refuse to a transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament to do so.

HeraldScotland:

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ahead of a meeting at the EC in Brussels, Belgium, June 29, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Vidal.

Against the impasse she has instructed civil servants to update the independence prospectus while the Scottish Government has also stepped up engagement with countries overseas in a bid to help win over international support for a new referendum.

During COP26, held in Glasgow last autumn, the First Minister took the opportunity to raise Scotland's international profile. She was pictured meeting a wide range of world leaders including US President Joe Biden, Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau and the former German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Last week Angus Robertson, the Scottish Constitution Secretary, referred to international reaction should the UK Government continue to oppose a second independence vote.

"The UK Government telling the people of Scotland what they can and can't do, that fundamentally changes the nature of the UK, will move the question on from being the challenge of independence to democracy itself," Robertson told BBC's Newsnight last Thursday.

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"And that will be viewed not just domestically but internationally as countries around the world will look at the UK and will see an entirely different state than they previously thought it was."

The Scottish Tories have previously criticised spending on the hubs outside Scotland underlining that foreign policy is not devolved to Holyrood and the UK Government runs embassies around the world.

But the Scottish Government maintain the bases help to open trade opportunities as well as raise Scotland's international profile and enhance the country's interests in the EU.

Two years on from Brexit, the information shows that the Scottish Government's headquarters in Brussels is still the largest hub outside the country.

The office employs 18 staff and is the most expensive to run with a bill for the year 2022/2023 of £2.47m - up from £2.31m in the previous 12 months.

READ MORE: SNP in discussions about EU vote commitment in indyref2

The next most costly office to maintain is in London, which, with 16 staff, will cost almost £2.2m to run this financial year.

Ms Sturgeon's government is also due to open an office in the coming weeks in Copenhagen with the new figures revealing that the base in the Danish capital will cost £598,000 during 2022/23 and will have three staff. A further international office is due to open in Warsaw in the current parliamentary term.

HeraldScotland:

US President Joe Biden pictured with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a COP26 reception last autumn in Glasgow.

The remaining six overseas offices’ costs are as follows:

- Beijing, China: £567,000 for four staff.

- Berlin, Germany: £572,000 for three staff.

- Dublin, Ireland: £593,000 for three staff.

- Ottawa, Canada: £634,000 for four staff.

- Paris, France: £659,000 for three staff.

- Washington DC, US: £794,000 for four staff.

The Scottish Government say the international offices network is tasked with improving Scotland’s international profile, attracting investment to Scotland, helping businesses to trade internationally, promoting and securing Scottish research and innovation capability, partnerships and funding.

It also insists that the network helps protect and enhance Scotland’s interests in the EU and beyond and that each office is evaluated in terms of providing value for money.

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A statement on the Scottish Government website states: "Each Scottish Government International Office evaluation report for each financial year in order to monitor the offices’ effectiveness; to ensure they are achieving their objectives; and that they provide value for money. 

"Five shared outcomes, as agreed by the International Board, inform the activity and evaluation of the network. The five outcomes, against which the External Network reports, are as follows: 1) Scotland’s international reputation is improved; 2) Scottish businesses are trading internationally more effectively; 3) Scottish research and innovation capability is promoted and further partnerships and funding secured; 4) Investment to Scotland has increased; and 5) Scotland’s interests in the EU and beyond are protected and enhanced." 

EU expert Anthony Salmone said it "is perfectly normal" for the Scottish Government to operate representative offices abroad and pointed to Quebec, Wales and Bavaria doing so.

"Like any aspect of public policy, the costs of these Scottish Government offices should be viewed in the context of the services which they provide," he said.

"The reality is that these offices generate substantial benefits for Scottish enterprise, civil society and policy for relatively modest costs.

"The Scottish Government's representations support Scottish businesses in securing and developing trade and investment opportunities. These offices are well suited to the task, sometimes more so than the Foreign Office, because Scotland is all they focus on and they often understand its businesses better."

He added: "The policy work of these representative offices is also important for Scotland. The Brussels office ensures that Scottish institutions are connected to EU policy-making, which continues to affect us regardless of Brexit. The London office promotes cooperation between the Scottish and UK Governments.

"Some of the benefits of these offices are easy to measure – such as the amount of investment generated. But other benefits are difficult, or even impossible to quantify – such as influence on new policies.

"The Scottish Government's approach of co-locating most of its representations within UK diplomatic missions also reduces the costs, compared to freestanding offices in separate premises.

"It is worth reiterating that these offices are staffed by professional civil servants. In my interactions with them, I have never seen these civil servants promote an independence agenda."

He continued: "At this stage, it is high time to leave behind the hyperbolic reactions to the Scottish Government's offices abroad, and to replace it with a sensible discussion on the development of this important representative network."

The Scottish Government offices, excluding Brussels and London are located within British Embassies/High Commissions which, the Scottish Government says, allowing them to maintain close working relationships with our UK Government counterparts and support wider UK priorities if and when it is needed.

Opposition parties criticised Scottish Government spending on the hubs.

Scottish Conservative Shadow Constitution Secretary Donald Cameron said: “The public will be questioning why the SNP Government think it is acceptable to be spending even more money on these offices at this time.

“It is yet another example of how the SNP are wasteful of taxpayers money. Their focus should be on rebuilding our public services after the pandemic and growing the economy.”

Scottish Labour spokesperson for External Affairs Sarah Boyack said last year: "It is important for Scotland to have good links with the rest of the world but given the pressures of the pandemic, I would question whether this is the best or most strategic use of resources.

"No one doubts that Scotland can be a force for good in the world but given our international development commitments to countries like Malawi, could this cash have been better spent helping secure access to vaccines and playing our part in the global recovery from the pandemic?"

 

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland’s international network attracts investment and creates domestic opportunities and benefits for the people of Scotland.

“We will continue to work with our friends and partners in Europe and beyond to unlock new economic and trading opportunities, reaffirm diplomatic ties, and improve our global networks.

“Our international presence is even more important in the wake of Brexit and the damage it is causing to our economy, jobs and trade - and in supporting a green recovery from the pandemic.”