John Swinney has been forced to defend the decision to axe the Scottish Government’s minister for independence post following a backlash from Yes supporters.

Jamie Hepburn, who held the brief, has moved to become the Minister for Parliamentary Business.

Alba accused the new SNP leader of "deprioritising" the constitution.

Alyn Smith, the SNP MP for Stirling, said he thought the position had been “really effective to focus government on getting the independence white papers out the door.”

READ MORE: John Swinney axes minister for independence

Writing in the pro-independence newspaper, The National, Mr Swinney said there needed to be “substance” from the Scottish Government, “not just process.”

“And because the Scottish Government believes independence offers the best future for Scotland, all Cabinet Secretaries and ministers – not just one – are responsible for helping to bring about that better future.

“As a party we will use every electoral opportunity to advance the cause. The next such opportunity will be the forthcoming UK General Election.

“The SNP will go into that election on a manifesto which will say on page one, line one: ‘Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country.’ “Between now and then there is a crucial job for the SNP: to show the people of Scotland that winning independence is not separate from their top concerns.”

The Herald: Independence minister Jamie Hepburn with Humza Yousaf

The creation of the minister for independence post was one of Humza Yousaf’s key pledges during last year's SNP leadership contest.

Responsibilities included “independence strategy, parliamentary co-ordination and liaison regarding devolution, independence and Scotland’s constitutional future, communication with people, businesses and organisations regarding devolution, independence and Scotland’s constitutional future”.

However, the position - which came with a £32,000 salary uplift for the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth MSP - had proved controversial.

One of Mr Hepburn’s main roles was in the production of the Building a New Scotland independence prospectus. The Scottish Government has confirmed that the publication of those papers will continue.

News that the ministerial portfolio had been ditched emerged late on Thursday night when the Scottish Government unveiled details of Mr Swinney's junior ministerial appointments. 

Mr Swinney’s full team now consists of 11 cabinet secretaries and 14 ministers, down from the 10 Cabinet Secretaries and 18 ministers in Humza Yousaf's administration.

Other posts to be scrapped include the two held by the Scottish Greens and the Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development.

Kaukab Stewart who held the post is now Minister for Equalities.

Mr Swinney has also brought Ivan McKee back into government. He quit last year after Mr Yousaf offered him "a smaller job" than the he held under Nicola Sturgeon.

The Glasgow Provan MSP - who was briefly Kate Forbes’s campaign manager during 2023’s SNP leadership contest - will be Public Finance Minister.

That post was previously held by Tom Arthur. He has been moved to work under Ms Forbes as the Minister for Employment and Investment.

While there has been little movement at the top level of government, with Mr Swinney keeping all of Mr Yousaf's Cabinet Secretaries in place, there have been casualties among the junior ranks.

Emma Roddick, who was minister for equalities, migration and refugees, Joe Fitzpatrick, who had been minister for local government empowerment and planning, and George Adam, who was previously minister for parliamentary business, have all "stepped down from their previous roles."

Chris McEleny, Alba’s general secretary said: “Humza Yousaf created the role of Minister for independence so that it looked like his Government was taking action on independence.

"We are currently at a constitutional logjam. John Swinney has said his independence strategy is the same as Humza Yousaf’s - a strategy that the SNP’s longest serving MP Peter Wishart labelled ‘a total mess’.

“The new SNP Government has made the decision to deprioritise independence in order to try broaden support for itself within parliament.

"Instead of appealing to unionists, the First Minister should be reaching out to Alba Party’s Holyrood leader Ash Regan MSP to turbo charge efforts to drive forward the case for independence."

The decision was welcomed by the Lib Dems.

Willie Rennie said: “For months I have been campaigning to free the Cumbernauld One from the drudgery of producing independence paper after independence paper that no one reads.

“I am delighted to say that goal has now been achieved.

“The Scottish Government needs to have a laser focus on the issues that really matter, like tackling long waits for healthcare and violence in our schools.”