HUMZA Yousaf’s creation of Scotland’s first Minister for Independence could be in breach of rules governing the use of public money, the Scottish Conservatives have said. 

They have now written to John-Paul Marks, the Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government looking for guidance. 

The SNP leader appointed Jamie Hepburn to the post on Wednesday. The new job will see him earn £98,000 per year.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf's Cabinet meets for first time

The MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilysth, had previously been the minister for higher and further education, youth employment and training. 

He reports directly to Mr Yousaf and will operate as a backroom ‘fixer’, coordinating work on independence across the administration.

In his letter to Mr Marks, the Tory constitution spokesman, Donald Cameron, suggested the appointment was “improper” because devolved governments were not supposed to spend money in areas where they had no power. 

He said the Supreme Court’s ruling last year that the Scottish Government does not have powers to hold even an advisory referendum, meant it was clear the SNP administration should not be spending money on independence. 

“This is not an appropriate use of taxpayer funding, as it is not an area where the Scottish Government can action any policy that it has the power to deliver. 

“UK Government guidance on handling of public money notes: ‘It is improper for a public sector organisation to spend or make commitments outside the agreed delegations.’ 

“It is therefore reasonable to conclude that spending on Independence which is demonstratively not an agreed delegation of the Scottish government falls into this category.

“The Scottish Government's public finance manual makes clear: ‘Ministers cannot undertake any activities given rise to expenditure for which there are no powers.’ 

“There are no powers the Scottish Government possesses to be able to spend on independence.“

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The Tory asked the senior mandarin if he opposed the appointment and if he was overruled. 

The new role was first mooted by Mr Yousaf after his leadership contest rival Kate Forbes suggested the responsibility for building the prospectus for independence be taken away from the civil service.

Mr Yousaf said: "Why on Earth would you not use the machinery of government to fund the cause?”

He then said he was "quite keen to have a Cabinet Secretary not just for the constitution – call it for advancing independence and the constitution.”

However, Mr Hepburn will not sit in Cabinet, and Angus Robertson keeps the Constitution brief.

In an interview with The National, Mr Hepburn said his appointment made it “abundantly clear” independence is a priority for the Scottish Government.

"If anyone thinks independence is off the agenda for the SNP then this is a very clear demonstration that that’s not the case.

“The SNP has a mandate to continue to seek to advance the proposition that Scotland should be independent through the means of Government. We secured that mandate in the 2021 election. 

"There’s a majority in favour of independence in the Scottish Parliament so having a minister makes it very explicit and abundantly clear that’s the responsibility. I suppose it’s a re-emphasis of that being the reality and the work will continue.”

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The row came as Mr Yousaf held the first meeting of his Cabinet.

According to a statement from the Scottish Government, the First Minister and his top team had a "substantive discussion on the priorities of the government."

They also confirmed that he would set out those priorities in a statement when parliament returns after Easter Recess. There will also likely be a decision then on whether or not to appeal the UK Government’s Gender Recognition Refrorm Bill veto. 

The deadline to lodge a judicial review of the Section 35 order falls in mid-April. 

Following the Cabinet, Mr Yousaf said: “I was pleased to welcome new and returning Cabinet members to our first meeting this morning.

"I was clear to them that I want Cabinet to be a forum for open and honest discussion.

"We all look forward to reaching out to stakeholders, the business community, opposition parties and the wider public in a spirit of genuine collaboration.

“This government has a strong track of taking forward ambitious and radical policies and reforms over the last few years, against a backdrop of austerity, economic uncertainty and of course the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Under my leadership, the Ministerial team have been tasked with taking a bold approach to how we govern – not just in addressing the challenges facing the people of Scotland, but also maximising the opportunities of our many strengths.

“Our key priorities will include eradicating poverty and delivering a wellbeing economy underpinned by sustainable public services.

“I will set out more detail to parliament following Easter recess – but in the next couple of weeks, Cabinet members will be busy getting down to work on the immediate issues in their portfolios.”