Scottish Affairs Committee Recommend Changes Strengthening the Role of the Redundant Secretary of State for Scotland



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James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensberry (1662-1711) Secretary of State for Scotland, 1709-1711.  procured the signing of the 1707, Treaty of the Union





Secretary of State for Scotland – About the post

The post was created soon after the Union of the Crowns, but was abolished in 1746, following the Jacobite rebellion. Scottish affairs thereafter were managed by the Lord Advocate until 1827, when responsibility passed to the Home Office.

In 1885 the post of Secretary for Scotland was re-created, with the incumbent usually (though not always) in the Cabinet.

In 1926 this post was upgraded to a full Secretary of State appointment.

The 1999 Scottish devolution has meant the Scottish Office’s powers were divided, with most transferred to the Scottish Government or to other UK Government departments, leaving only a limited role for the Scotland Office. Consequently, the role of Secretary of State for Scotland was much diminished.

The role of the Secretary of State for Scotland:



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Helen Do-little – Labour Party – Secretary of State for Scotland

The Secretary of State for Scotland manages to fit French lessons and Burns Suppers into her less-than-arduous three-day-week, yet still manages to pull down a £100,000 salary.

The sinecure that Helen Liddell, the present incumbent, enjoys is breathtaking. The details of her diary, showed that because the Scottish Parliament is now responsible for virtually all domestic legislation north of the border, she has very little to do.

Opposition politicians, as well as some in her own party, are now asking whether the new constitutional arrangements justify having a minister of Cabinet rank solely for Scotland. The Scottish National Party has called for the abolition of the post of Scottish Secretary but, as its raison d’etre is the end of the union, this is hardly surprising.

The best solution – certainly the one that would appeal to those with an interest in preserving the United Kingdom – is for Scottish affairs to be handled by a Cabinet minister with other UK-wide responsibilities. In a re-arranged Cabinet the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, for instance, could make sure that Scotland’s interests were represented – and its voice heard – in Cabinet.

It would be an improvement on the current farce of Mrs Helen Do-little.



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What happened next?

Blair and Brown tried to address the much reduced role in various ways. Douglas Alexander and Alistair Darling fitted in the UK Minister of Transport posts whilst Des Browne took on the UK Ministry of Defence role, (at the time of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts).

The appointment of Jim Murphy to the post full time in 2007 was met with some surprise when set against the foregoing. It was expected the post would be downgraded or given up reflecting the changing political scene in Scotland.

In 2010 David Cameron transferred responsibility for Scotland to the Lib/Dem party meeting the terms of the coalition government agreement. Michael Moore MP held the post from 2010. He was replaced, in 2013 with the infamous, Alistair Carmichael. David Mundell (Cameron’s blue eyed boy) took up the post in 2015 following the Tory party’s return to government



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2010: Scottish Affairs Committee Scotland and the UK: cooperation and communication between governments: Government Response to the Committee’s Fourth Report of Session 2009-10
Recommendation: (Establishing the Secretary of State for Scotland as the custodian of Scotland)

(C): We recommend that the Scottish Executive recognise the Secretary of State’s role as custodian of the Scotland Act and work with the Secretary of State to improve communication and cooperation between UK and Scottish Governments where possible.

(G): This Government remains committed to the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland. We believe that it is vital for the interests of all the Devolved Administrations to be represented
at the Cabinet table, not least at this time of economic and financial challenges and given the ambitious proposals we have set out to facilitate further devolution of powers to Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland will play a full and active role in policy formulation, ensuring that the devolution settlement in Scotland is fully respected during policy development, and also ensuring that the UK Government is represented in Scotland.



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Recommendation: (Asserting Secretary’s authority over the Scottish Government daily business)

(C): We note the Secretary of State’s concern that he is not copied routinely into correspondence sent from the Scottish Executive to UK Departments. We encourage the Scottish Executive to copy the Scotland Office into intergovernmental correspondence in future, as better and more open lines of communication are likely to enable the Scotland Office to offer its assistance to discussion at an earlier stage.

(G): We welcome the Committee’s encouragement to the Scottish Government to copy the Secretary of State for Scotland into all correspondence. This Government does not see the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland to act as an intermediary in direct and constructive bilateral relations between UK Departments and their Scottish Government equivalents, but we do share the Committee’s assessment that the Scotland Office plays an important role in supporting the full consideration of Scottish interests in policy formulation and development. Such action on the part of the Scottish Government will help ensure that the Scotland Office is best placed to help early identification of any areas of contention and work with relevant parties (in both the Scottish Government and in Whitehall) to resolve them satisfactorily.



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Recommendation: (Relates to the secret anti-devolution “Fifth Column Civil service team” that schemed, plotted and conducted a successful “spoiling campaign” against Scottish independence in 2014)

(C): We welcome the action that the Government is taking to improve the knowledge of devolution matters amongst civil servants which has been shown to be occasionally wanting in the areas of Whitehall which have little to do with devolved issues or Scotland. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice ensures that each department has a “devolution champion” at senior level to ensure that structures are put in place to achieve and maintain higher levels of devolution awareness amongst staff.

(G): As a result of recommendations and findings from the Calman Commission, the UK Government undertook an audit of its devolution capability between October 2009 and March 2010 which agreed a series of actions for improvement – one of these was that each department should identify a senior devolution champion. All departments have now identified at least one senior member of staff as their devolution champion. It was also agreed that these leads should form a network across Whitehall and meet periodically. A first meeting of these departmental leads took place on 15th April and we expect a second meeting to take place this summer.



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February 2014: A committee of MPs has announced an inquiry into the impartiality of civil servants in Scotland, ahead of the independence referendum.

Westminster’s Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) said it would look at the “challenges” they face in the run up to the 18 September vote. The independence campaign has already seen concerns raised about the neutrality of senior civil servants. The committee has asked for submissions by 4 April 2014. It will look at five key issues:

* The dual obligations of civil servants in the Scottish government to their ministers and to the UK civil service as a whole.

* Explore what “impartiality and objectivity” mean in practice for civil servants working on the referendum.

* Examine how the civil service code will be enforced, and complaints of alleged breaches of the code examined.

* Scrutinise the leadership of the civil service in relation to the referendum. (read my many posts about Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood)

* Consider what lessons the civil service can take from the referendum when planning for similar events in the future.
The inquiry came after the UK government’s unusual decision to publish advice from the Treasury’s top civil servant caused a row between the Holyrood and Westminster administrations. Sir Nicholas MacPherson said a currency union with an independent Scotland would be “fraught with difficulty”, which prompted Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney to say the mandarin had “crossed the line” of civil service neutrality. The Treasury said Sir Nicholas’s advice was “completely impartial”.



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Sir Nicholas Macpherson, permanent secretary to the Treasury






October 2014: Row deepens over Treasury civil servants’ indyref role

Mario Pisani, deputy director of the UK Treasury, made several controversial remarks at a ceremony where he and the rest of the department’s “Scotland Analysis Programme Team” received the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service Award in the annual Civil Service Awards. He said:

“In the Treasury, everyone hates you. We don’t get thanks for anything. This is one occasion where we’ve worked with the rest of Whitehall. “We all had something in common, we’re trying to save the Union here, and it came so close. We just kept it by the skin of our teeth. “I actually cried when the result came in. After 10 years in the civil service, my proudest moment is tonight and receiving this award.” adding “As civil servants you don’t get involved in politics. For the first time in my life, suddenly we’re part of a political campaign. We were doing everything from the analysis, to the advertising, to the communications. I just felt a massive sense of being part of the operation.”

The foregoing is controversial because civil servants are supposed to retain a strictly neutral profile during political campaigns. Ironically, Mr Darling and several leading Better Together figures had accused the Scottish Government of abusing the rules in its use of civil servants during the referendum campaign – a charge that was never proven, and for which Mr Darling provided no supporting evidence.

In contrast, the role of the Treasury has been at the eye of controversy within the Civil Service itself, not least because of the publication by the UK government of “advice” offered by its Permanent Secretary Sir Nick Macpherson in support of Chancellor George Osborne’s crucial intervention on the currency question.

Better Together sources have stressed post referendum how important the currency question was in persuading people to vote No, as well as giving Darling a bat with which to beat former First Minister Alex Salmond MSP during last summer’s TV debates.

Whether Macpherson’s advice – basically that in the event of a Yes vote he would give advice that a rUK Chancellor should not agree to a common currency deal with Scotland – was actually “impartial” has been a controversial point.

The move, launched in a lightning visit to Edinburgh by Osborne – who refused, famously, to be interviewed on the subject by STV’s Bernard Ponsonby – is believed to have been initiated by Darling, and received public support from Labour’s Ed Balls in the belief that a joint Unionist front would beat back the SNP position.



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The man who runs the UK (its him in the middle) Sir Jeremy Heywood




Recommendation: (Keeping the Scottish Government in the loop))

(C): In future, the UK Government must consider whether the interests of confidentiality outweigh the responsibility it has to keep the Scottish Executive informed of international agreements made on its behalf, particularly in cases such as this where Scottish Ministers will be forced to make decisions on highly emotive and controversial devolved matters as a result.

(G): The UK Government is committed to the principles of co-operation and communication with the Scottish Government, as enshrined in the Memorandum of Understanding and Concordats. As recommended, Government will consider carefully the appropriate balance between interests of confidentiality and the responsibility to keep the Scottish Government informed of international agreements made on its behalf. This includes consultation with the Devolved Administrations on matters relating to international relations which touch upon devolved matters.



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2016: European referendum – Brexit – Role of the Secretary of State for Scotland

A leaked document has shown half of the cabinet is made up of hard-line Eurosceptics, yet Scottish Secretary of State David Mundell misses out. The 54-year-old Tory MP, will only be summoned to the crucial Brexit negotiations “as required”.

SNP’s deputy leader Angus Robertson criticised the decision to leave Scotland out in the cold in critical Brexit talks. He said: “The revelation that the Scottish Secretary is not a full member of Theresa May’s Brexit cabinet committee is deeply embarrassing for David Mundell — but also seriously undermines Theresa May’s claim that Scotland will be fully involved in the Brexit negotiations. But make no mistake — the SNP will ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard in the Brexit process. The people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, yet we face being dragged to the EU exit door — and as the ugly reality of the Tory vision of Brexit Britain becomes clear, we will explore all options to protect Scotland’s place in and relationship with EU.”

Chief Brexit negotiators Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox have all been drafted into the permanent committee. Prominent Leave campaigners and cabinet ministers Andrea Leadsom, Priti Patel and Chris Grayling have also been given key roles in taking Britain out of the bureaucratic bloc.

A Government spokesman said: “The UK government governs for the whole of the UK We have been very clear that we will work closely with the devolved administrations in order to deliver the best deal for the country.”

The revelation will only add to the SNP’s call for another independence referendum – with Nicola Sturgeon stating a new bill will be published in a bid to force Theresa May to back down to climb down from her threats of a hard Brexit which would see Britain pull out of the single market. During the first day of the SNP party conference on, Sturgeon said: “If you think for one single second that I’m not serious about doing what it takes to protect Scotland’s interests, then think again. “If you can’t – or won’t – allow us to protect our interests within the UK, then Scotland will have the right to decide, afresh, if it wants to take a different path.”



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Civil Servants awarded special Civil Service Award for their Key role defeating Scots in the Referendum