THE UK government has won the right to appeal against an SNP MP’s long running bid to force the disclosure of publicly-funded polling on the state of the union.

Tommy Sheppard has been fighting to have the data released for years, initially asking for it to be released under Freedom of Information legislation in 2019

He previously took the case to the Information Commissioner, who ruled that the documents should be made public.

Despite this, the Cabinet Office has so far refused to hand them over, saying they should be exempt as they relate to the development of policy.

Last month, after two unsuccessful attempts, they won the right to appeal. 

Mr Sheppard fears that if they are successful it could ultimately give the UK Government “a blanket exemption to withhold operational information.”

Sir James Eadie QC, the First Treasury Counsel and so-called ‘Treasury Devil’, has been tasked by the UK Government with defending its position. 

The SNP MP said the fact that Conservatives had put their top lawyer on the case was telling in itself. 

The polls at the centre of the case were conducted by Ipsos-MORI and date back to 2019. 

In Mr Sheppard’s initial victory in 2021, Judge Stephen Cragg ruled that policy on independence was clearly set, so the polls could not possibly relate to its “development”. 

The judge, who has seen the results of the polling, also indicated that, even if the polls had related to development, the public interest test would alone probably be enough to justify their release.

Mr Sheppard said: “The amount of money the UK Government are throwing at my inquiry shows how determined they are – but also how rattled. They’ve lost three times but they’re still fighting. And now they're having to bring out their most senior lawyer to fight the case.

“What they’re arguing would set a nightmare precedent. It should terrify anyone who ever tries to get information out of Whitehall. 

“What they’re doing is taking the exemption for ‘policy development’ and trying to draw it so widely as to make it include anything. 

“If the court rules in their favour, the judgement will be cited in defence of every UK Government cover-up for years to come. If this happens it will kill the right to information stone-dead.

“Does anyone think the Tories were thinking about changing their minds on independence?

"They were stonewalling all approaches and weren’t even willing to entertain changes to Holyrood’s powers. This policy was set. The polling was just them using public money to do political research and it’s high time they gave up spending a fortune trying to cover it up and just published the polls."

“The UK Government have an army of civil servants, big shot lawyers and apparently unlimited access to taxpayers' money. Exercising our rights under Freedom of Information has become a David-and-Goliath struggle.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: "It is in the public interest to preserve a safe space for the development of policy and the provision of advice to ministers.

"We seek to balance our commitment to transparency with the need for ministers to make decisions on the development of policy based on data.

“We regularly commission research into public attitudes and behaviour across the UK which enables us to inform our policies and deliver effective cross-government campaigns.”