Alister Jack has said no UK civil servant should engage with Scotland’s newly-created independence minister.
The Scottish secretary raised concerns about the role’s “constitutional propriety” following the UK Supreme Court battle which found the Scottish Parliament cannot unilaterally hold an independence referendum.
Humza Yousaf appointed Jamie Hepburn as minister for independence following his SNP leadership victory in late March.
He said the role reflected Holyrood’s pro-independence majority and the fact the SNP ran on a pledge to deliver a second referendum.
Following the move, Labour peer George Foulkes wrote to chancellor Jeremy Hunt questioning the appointment.
He received a response from Jack, who said: “I am concerned at the First Minister’s decision to appoint a minister for independence.
“This decision is completely out of step with the real priorities of the public, which include continuing to tackle the cost of living, growing Scotland’s economy, tackling NHS waiting lists, ensuring our energy security, and improving transport links.
“In my role as secretary of state for Scotland, I wrote to the cabinet secretary [Simon Case] 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 November 23, 2022, and secondly requested assurance that no UK civil servant will be engaged in this new department.
“I strongly believe in the need to uphold the reputation and impartiality of the civil service in Scotland and I understand that this is a matter for the Scottish Government permanent secretary in the first instance and my political colleagues have written to him on this matter.”
Foulkes praised the Scottish secretary’s “hard-line response”, saying: “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.”
As a minister, Hepburn is entitled to a salary top-up of £31,854 in addition to his MSP salary of £67,662.
In his role, he has responsibility for the strategy on independence. He will report directly to Yousaf and coordinate work on the issue across government.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister appointed a ministerial team that reflects the priorities he will pursue in government – including tackling child poverty, improving public services, building a fairer, greener economy, and giving people the information about devolution and independence that they need to make an informed choice about Scotland’s constitutional future.
“As ministers have outlined to the Scottish Parliament, there is a democratic mandate for an independence referendum.
“The Scottish Government remains ready to engage with the UK Government to give people in Scotland the right to choose their constitutional future in line with the result of the 2021 Scottish Parliament election which returned a clear majority in favour of a referendum.”
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