Scotland’s independence minister has insisted that it is a good use of taxpayers' cash for the Scottish Government to campaign for independence.

Jamie Hepburn told the BBC that the SNP had a mandate to use public money to work on making the case for leaving the UK.

He said the revenue dedicated to the constitutional debate was a "small fraction of the Scottish Government's budget."

However, the spend was described as “simply irresponsible" by Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack.

The comments came as the minister defended the publication of the fifth paper in the multi-part prospectus, Building a New Scotland, detailing who could automatically become a citizen of an independent Scotland and how others could qualify for Scottish citizenship.

READ MORE: Yousaf would rip up his UK citizenship as indy plans allow opt out

During the SNP leadership contest, Humza Yousaf criticised the documents saying they were material “that frankly sits on a website and nobody reads”.

Around 25 civil servants costing up to £1.5m a year in wages are working on the Scottish Government prospectus, including one paid up to £83,000.

The government’s independence spending has been at the centre of a political storm in recent weeks, with UK ministers considering “sanctions” on the devolved administrations for using public money in areas beyond its powers.

Last week, the head of the UK civil service, Simon Case, said it was “unusual and worrying” for officials to be working on the break up of the UK.

He told the Lords constitution committee he was looking at issuing “further clarification and guidance” to Scottish government civil servants about “what is and isn’t appropriate spending”.

Mr Case said that “a number of instances” had been brought to his attention and he was now discussing the “propriety and ethics” with ministers.

On Friday, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack described the use of public funds on the independence paper as “simply irresponsible.”

In a letter to Mr Yousaf, he complained that the Scottish Government was putting its “obsession with independence ahead of pressing priorities in Scotland”.

In an interview with BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland, Mr Hepburn was asked why the taxpayer should be paying for party political campaigning.

“Well, with respect yes, of course, when we contest elections, we do it on the basis of it being a party political contest, but we stood on a platform of advancing this activity at the 2021 Scottish parliament election, and we won that election and it's perfectly legitimate for us to take forward that activity.”

Asked if it was a good use of taxpayers' cash given there was no referendum on the horizon, he replied: “Yes, I believe it is. And again, I go back to the fundamental point we've got a mandate to do this.

“The people of Scotland have actually through a democratic election said that we should do this.

“We've laid that out in our manifesto, and we're taking forward a manifesto commitment.”

“I believe it's a good utilisation of funds,” he added. “ And let's bear in mind the publication of each paper — [it costs] roughly about £16,000 to actually publish a paper — is a small fraction of the Scottish Government's budget.

“So yes, I do you believe there's a good utilisation of funds.”

Mr Hepburn said the papers would be read by the public.

“I do not think the ones we're publishing now will remain on the shelf. I think will be of great interest to people really,” he added.

Mr Hepburn was also pushed on whether Scotland would join the Euro after independence.

He said the government’s plan was to use Sterling and then create a new Scottish currency, the Scottish pound.

“We live in a democracy and if [joining the Euro] was a decision of the people of Scotland in the future then that's one that they would have made, but we laid out the government's position.`”

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf says Unionists trying to 'shut down' independence debate

In his letter, which was copied to Mr Case and UK Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, Mr Jack has called on the Scottish Government to “cease being distracted by independence.”

The Scottish Secretary said: “It therefore seems clear to me that to use Scottish Government funds and civil service resources to design a prospectus for independence or support a minister for independence is simply irresponsible.


“This is particularly true given there is no referendum on independence in prospect, and it has been unequivocally determined by the Supreme Court that it is outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament to legislate for such a referendum.”

The Tory MP added: “People expect their governments to be fully focused on the issues which matter most to them.

“I believe that in continuing to prioritise activity like this, Scottish Government ministers are putting their own obsession with independence ahead of pressing priorities in Scotland.”

He went on to argue this was “not an effective or efficient use of the record block grant” the Scottish Government has been given by Westminster, saying instead the money should be “used to invest in improving devolved public services – cutting NHS waiting times, raising educational standards and providing vital transport links”.

Mr Jack told the First Minister: “I hope you and your ministerial colleagues will agree to cease being distracted by independence and, instead, work with us to deliver for business and people in Scotland.”

READ MORE: UK ministers look at 'sanctions' on Scottish Government over Indy work


Mr Heprburn was also asked about the SNP government’s relationship with the Scottish Greens.

It followed comments from veteran MSP Fergus Ewing earlier this week when he said there was a “toxic” atmosphere in the group, in part, because of the power-sharing agreement. He said the leadership had refused to talk to him for over a year.

Mr Hepburn was asked if Mr Yousaf was closer politically to Mr Ewing or the Scottish Green co-leader and Government minister, Patrick Harvie.

“That would be a question for the First Minister,” Mr Hepburn said.

He added: “We have an agreement with the Scottish Green Party to serve in Government with them, that was endorsed incidentally by about 90% of SNP members, that agreement was put to the membership of the Scottish National Party and they endorsed it.

“So we have that agreement and we will continue to work with them.”

Pressed on the atmosphere within the SNP group at Holyrood, Mr Hepburn stated: “I have known Fergus Ewing for along time, I have certainly not ignored him over the last year.

“I don’t know if that means I don’t qualify as a senior figure in the SNP.

“All I can say is I don’t agree with Fergus’s assessment of the environment in which the Scottish National Party’s parliamentary group is operating in.”