THE SCOTTISH Government Supreme Court Indyref2 legal battle is already costing the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds in lawyers’ fees, The Herald can reveal. 

The huge spend on just one aspect of the preparation of the case suggests the final bill for the judicial showdown could soon run into six figures.

Details of the cost were released by the Scottish Government in response to a Freedom of Information request. 

By 28 June - the day the Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC made her reference to the Supreme Court - £27,193.84 had been spent on external counsel.

It is likely this cost relates to Douglas Ross QC, Tom Hickman QC, Christine O'Neill QC, and Paul Reid, advocate, who all co-signed Ms Bain's initial submission.

The four were also signatories to the Lord Advocate’s 51-page written case submitted on July 12. It is not clear if the cost of their work on that document is included in the figure released by the government.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton questioned why outside legal experts were needed. He said the money could be better spent on "helping Scottish households tackle the cost-of-living crisis."

Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants to stage a second independence referendum in October 2023, but Boris Johnson has twice refused to grant Holyrood the power to make a vote legally watertight. 

The two candidates in the race to replace him, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have also said they will refuse.

READ MORE: Liz Truss's campaign steps up attack on 'always moaning' Nicola Sturgeon

In June, the First Minister asked the Lord Advocate to use her power to refer so-called "devolution issues" to the Supreme Court for clarification on whether Holyrood could consult people on their views on independence, provided there was no automatic legal effect. 

Although the 1998 Scotland Act explicitly states that the Union is reserved to Westminster, legal academics have, for years, suggested there is some uncertainty around whether or not it is lawful for the Scottish Parliament to hold a vote.

The issue has never been settled definitively by a court, until now.

The Supreme Court will assess the Lord Advocate's reference in mid-October. Ms Bain has said she will represent the government in person.

In her written case, Ms Bain suggested Holyrood staging its own independence referendum would have no legal effect because it would only be "advisory."

She told the court a vote was possible if the justices ignored the "wider motivations and aspirations of the Scottish Government and other political parties."

“The legal consequences of the Bill are, relevantly, nil," she said.

“Any practical effects beyond ascertaining the views of the people of Scotland are speculative, consequential and indirect and should not properly be taken into account.”

Ms Bain also set out why the issue could be seen as being beyond Holyrood's powers. 

She said it could be argued that a referendum, although nominally to ascertain voters' views about independence, would have the clear purpose of achieving independence and would have "significant political effects regardless of its outcome". 

The lawyer asked the court for clarity on what she described as a "festering issue."

Cases at the Supreme Court are often phenomenally expensive. 

When businesswoman Gina Miller took the UK Government to court over Brexit in 2016, the Department for Exiting the EU spent £1.2m in legal fees.

The Scottish Government spent £482,000 on their unsuccessful defence of the named person policy, and around £494,000 on their successful defence of minimum unit pricing. 

Scottish Conservative Shadow Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Donald Cameron MSP said: “The SNP Government need to explain why the taxpayer is facing a hefty bill for external legal advice on their obsessional push for another divisive independence referendum.

“It’s bad enough that the internal Scottish Government legal team are being distracted by this Supreme Court referral – which we know the Lord Advocate has grave doubts about – without further public money being squandered on obtaining outside advice.

“The SNP’s self-serving legal pursuit is entirely the wrong priority for the country at the worst possible time.

“The majority of Scots want them to focus on tackling their priorities – Scotland’s drug-deaths epidemic, rising NHS waiting times and the global cost-of-living crisis.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: "This is yet another legal bill that should have been spent on helping Scottish households tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

"The Scottish Government has an army of in-house lawyers and their case will be led by the impeccably credentialed Lord Advocate. That makes it even stranger that they would be speaking to outside counsel.

"Perhaps Dorothy Bain's obvious discomfort with this entire legal wheeze is pushing them towards external advisers."

He added: "Either way, it is the Scottish public who are footing the bill at a time when they would much rather the government's efforts were focused elsewhere."

Scottish Labour Business Manager Neil Bibby said: “People are really struggling with the cost of living crisis right now. Rather than help them the Scottish Government is choosing to spend thousands of pounds of public money outsourcing their legal advice.

“The Supreme Court is set to give us an answer to this question once and for all, but that isn’t license for the Scottish Government to write a blank cheque at taxpayer expense.”

The Freedom of Information response also revealed more details of the teams inside St Andrew’s House responsible for work on the referendum. 

The work to prepare legislation is “being taken forward by the Referendums Scotland Bill Team” while the work to prepare an independence prospectus is being “coordinated by the Constitutional Futures Division.” 

The teams will draw on the expertise of “other officials across a range of portfolios who will contribute to varying extents as part of their wider responsibilities in supporting the Scottish Government.” 

On 28 June, there were four officials in the Referendums Scotland Bill Team and one senior civil servant and 19 other officials in the Constitutional Futures Division.

The government also confirmed that the salary band of the deputy director who runs the department ranges from £77,340 to £83,233.

The government also confirmed that they had “not used any external consultants when taking forward the independence related work set out in the [Programme for Government] and therefore, no costs have been incurred.” 

They also said that there had not yet been any advertising or paid promotion “carried out in relation to the Scottish Government’s ongoing work relating to the independence prospectus or to prepare for an independence referendum.”

However, three members of staff in the Scottish Government’s Communications Directorate were “coordinating communications and media work for the independence prospectus.” 

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:“Details of the Scottish Government’s costs will be published in due course.”