JAMIE Hepburn said becoming the first ever minister for independence was “exhilarating” as he insisted there had never been a country as ready for self-determination as Scotland is.

The former higher education minister was handed the role by Humza Yousaf in the Cabinet reshuffle and is set to report directly to the new First Minister as well as work closely with Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson.

Yousaf appointed a 10-strong Cabinet who will be supported by 18 junior ministers. All of them will be sworn in on Friday after Parliament rubber-stamped their appointments on Thursday.

Having been part of the SNP since he was 18, Hepburn said he was delighted to take on the role, while admitting it will be a “huge responsibility”.

The 43-year-old added his appointment makes it “abundantly clear” independence is a priority for the Scottish Government while he stressed it does not need to take a "long time", after Deputy First Minister Shona Robison suggested independence would “take as long as it takes” this week.

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“I’ve been campaigning for the SNP for 25 years so to be approached to be the minister for independence was quite exhilarating,” said Hepburn as he spoke about his role for the first time.

“It’s obviously a huge responsibility. 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.”

Asked about the comments Robison had made, he added: “It’s self-evidently true [it will take as long as it takes] but that doesn’t mean it needs to take a long time though. It comes down to us getting out there and making the case and winning people over.

“We will not be independent until we have secured a sustained majority in terms of the Scottish population supporting the proposition that Scotland becomes independent.”

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Hepburn said grassroots activism was a vital catalyst for achieving independence as he insisted he did not want to “wait” for it.

He told The National the country had a strong case for self-determination but it was his and the Government’s responsibility to instil confidence in undecided voters that Scotland is ready to leave the UK.

“We spoke about his during the leadership contest and our primary responsibility as a movement right now is to out there speaking with folk and campaigning on the ground,” said Hepburn.

“That’s how we’re going to win. That’s my call to everyone out there who supports independence – get out there and campaign for it.

“I do it regularly and I know it will be happening but we shouldn’t be waiting for any sense of ‘it’s go-time, let’s do it now’. Now is go-time.

“I just want to remind people it’s really necessary to keep campaigning going.”

Asked what he personally felt put people off independence, Hepburn added: “Change can be unsettling for folk and there was a clear sense of that in 2014, but given where we are now as a country with probably the most right-wing UK Government we’ve ever had, and there’s havoc in our society and our economy, there are far bigger dangers by not going through the process of change.

“There will be questions of ‘can we do this?’ and questions around the economy and so on, and I recognise that, but we have a strong case. Of all the countries that have ever been seeking to become independent, there’s not been a country that’s as ready to go as Scotland in terms of the strength of our institutions and our economy.”

Hepburn revealed he would have some involvement in producing further white papers arguing the case for an independent Scotland alongside Robertson.

The Scottish Government said in December it would continue to publish the Building a New Scotland series despite doing away with a £20 million pot allocated for a second independence referendum after the Supreme Court ruling in October dashed hopes of a fresh ballot.

It was confirmed then that energy will be one of the key policy areas in the upcoming white papers, but The National was not given any clarification of when the next set of documents would be published.

Outside of that, Hepburn said his main responsibility will be to marshal the arguments for independence within government and ensure the case continues to be made.

He added: “It will primarily be about making sure we continue to marshal the arguments within government. There’s been working underway, rightly so. We have that mandate.”

Asked if he would be in charge of the white papers, Hepburn said: “Angus Robertson has been leading that, I’ll have a role to play in that.

“I’ll be working very closely with ex-civil servants working on it to make sure we continue to produce that and get the information out there.”