Another showdown

Jack tells Yousaf to scrap Indy minister role

Jamie Hepburn

Jamie Hepburn could find his job no longer exists (pic: Terry Murden)

First Minister Humza Yousaf is under pressure to abolish the post of Minister for Independence after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said no civil servants should be assigned to it.

Mr Yousaf appointed Jamie Hepburn to the newly-created role in his first Cabinet, but it has sparked another showdown between Holyrood and Westminster.

Mr Jack has written to the Scottish Government to question the “constitutional propriety” of the position in light of the Supreme Court ruling on holding a second independence referendum.

He has also asked for assurances from Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson – who is Mr Hepburn’s immediate boss – that no civil servants will be asked to support the role.

The Scottish Secretary’s intervention follows steps by UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to crack down on the SNP using public money to promote Scottish independence overseas.

It also comes as Mr Yousaf prepares to take Mr Jack to court over his decision to put a halt to the gender recognition legislation.

Mr Jack’s latest move was revealed in a letter to Scottish Labour peer Lord Foulkes, who has campaigned to stop the SNP acting on matters reserved to Westminster.

The letter states that Permanent Secretary John-Paul Marks has been reminded of the “need to uphold the reputation and impartiality of the civil service in Scotland”.

The Scottish Secretary writes: “In my role as Secretary of State for Scotland I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary and asked him firstly to advise on the constitutional propriety of appointing this ministerial role in light of United Kingdom Supreme Court’s ruling of 23 November 2022, and secondly requested assurance that no UK civil servant will be engaged in this new department.”

He adds: “As the UK moves on from the divisive tenure of the previous First Minister, I hope that the new First Minister will govern for the whole of Scotland and work with the UK Government to make life better for people in Scotland.”

Commenting on Mr Jack’s objections to the independence minister role, Lord Foulkes said: “He’s basically saying they have got to scrap it, it’s really very impressive and very powerful. If he doesn’t have civil service support then the role is basically a dead duck.

“We would be paying someone £100,000 a year to do nothing. Even if he had a team of civil servants he couldn’t do anything but without them it’s finished.

“I’m encouraged that Alister Jack has taken this hard line because I believe that this is improper if not illegal expenditure and now that such a strong statement has been made and it’s absolutely clear the role cannot be supported, the First Minister must immediately accept this and cancel the appointment.”

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