NICOLA Sturgeon has named her close friend, the failed Health Secretary Shona Robison as the head of a new SNP commission on independence.

Intended to complement the Growth Commission on the economy, the Social Justice Commission will consider how to tackle poverty and make Scotland a fairer society after a Yes vote.

The SNP said Ms Robison, who quit as Health Secretary last year amid a series of controversies, will chair the new group.

Her deputy convener will be Airdrie MP Neil Gray, the SNP’s social justice spokesperson.

Other members include former Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Harry Burns, Young Scot of the Year Chelsea Cameron, and former Scottish Women’s Budget Group convener Dr Angela O’Hagan.

The SNP said the Commission would “deliver a route map to the real prize of independence - a truly rich society with wellbeing at its heart”.

However it also emerged the Commission had taken six months to hold its first meeting.

Ms Sturgeon first announced it at the SNP spring conference in April, saying it would “demonstrate how we can use the powers of independence to end poverty, achieve full employment, and drive equality for all”.

It will hold its first meeting in Stirling on Friday, just ahead of the SNP’s autumn conference.

The slow timetable mirrors that of the SNP’s Growth Commission under another of Ms Sturgeon’s friends, Andrew Wilson, which took 21 months to report.

It then went through another year of internal party meetings before members approved the bulk of it as party policy.

A similar timeframe for the Social Justice and Fairness Commission would mean its ideas would not become SNP policy until after the next Holyrood election, despite Ms Sturgeon saying she wants to hold Indyref2 in late 2020.

Party sources insisted the new Commission would report in time "to inform an autumn 2020 referendum", but were unable to say if that meant it would also report in time to influence the SNP Government's next White Paper on independence, or if that would be incomplete or liable to revisions.  

Mr Robison quit as Health Secretary in June 2018 after less than four years in post.

It followed opposition calls for her to quit over waiting time problems and a broken promise to end delayed discharge.

Since her departure, serious problems have also emerged with hospital building projects on her watch and there has been a fresh approach to waiting time targets.

Ms Robison said: “Independence is fundamentally about creating a better Scotland.

“The Social Justice and Fairness Commission will explore in detail how we can use the powers of independence to end poverty, tackle inequality and improve the lives of families across Scotland.

“That’s a crucial task – both for persuading people of the case for independence, and for building a better country once we achieve it.

“The members of the Commission represent a broad base of expertise and experience, and over the next few months we will be working hard to harness the research and expertise available, as well as lived experience, to deliver a package of proposals with the potential to transform our country.

“This is an amazing opportunity to shape the future of our country, and I am delighted to be leading this important initiative with a fantastic team.”

Asked if Ms Robison was the best person for the Commission given her previous failures, an SNP spokesperson said: “Shona has a proven track record and is an experienced former minister.

“Obviously this is a party Commission so it is appropriate that someone without a ministerial portfolio takes it forward, someone who is experienced at that level of engagement with stakeholders. I don’t think you can sniff at Shona’s experience.”