UK may not be united for much longer: top civil servant

22nd December 2011, Comments 0 comments

The United Kingdom faces an "enormous challenge" in maintaining the Union in the face of increasing pressure for Scottish independence, the country's leading civil servant said Thursday.

Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell, who is due to step down as the head of Britain's civil service on January 1, told the Daily Telegraph that the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP) presented a huge test for the 300-year-old alliance.

"Over the next few years, there will be enormous challenges, such as whether to keep our kingdom united," he predicted.

The United Kingdom came into being with the 1707 Treaty of Union that combined the Kingdom of England -- including Wales -- and the Kingdom of Scotland into one sovereign state.

Scotland voted for devolution in 1997, resulting in the transfer of legislative and administrative control over domestic issues to the newly-created Scottish parliament in Edinburgh.

The pro-independence SNP became the largest political party in the Scottish parliament after the 2007 elections and governed as a minority administration before gaining an outright majority in 2011.

Scotland will hold a referendum in either 2014 or 2015 to decide whether it will remain part of the union.

However, O'Donnell said the greatest threat to Britain remained the dismal economic outlook, but stressed that the challenges would be "substantially greater" had Britain adopted the euro currency.

The civil service should be proud of the "evidence-based analysis" that resulted in the decision to stay out of the single currency but it now needs to reinvent itself as an engine of recovery, the senior official told the British broadsheet.

O'Donnell was also "extremely proud" of the way in which the civil service reacted to the Arab Spring uprisings. Britain was a key player in securing a UN resolution that brought about regime change in Libya.

Looking back on his time in office, O'Donnell reflected that governments had been "far too quick to solve problems with regulation and legislation" and urged his successor to seek "creative and innovative" solutions instead.

© 2011 AFP

0 Comments To This Article