SCOTLAND’S top civil servant has defended government staff working under Jamie Hepburn, the Minister for Independence.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack earlier this month told the UK’s top civil servant Simon Case not to allow any staff to work in the department - an instruction that was passed on to permanent secretary John-Paul Marks.

Following a question from Labour MSP Michael Marra about Jack’s actions, Marks told the Finance and Public Administration Committee on Tuesday that the civil service must serve the First Minister’s ministerial team “with impartiality” and that includes “with regards to constitutional reform”.

He insisted it has been “well understood” under devolution that the civil service for the Scottish Government “serves the Scottish Government and their priorities”, adding the constitutional debate was not “theoretical” and is a “here and now reality”.

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Hepburn - who said Jack should "get over" his appointment - was handed the Minister for Independence role after Humza Yousaf became First Minister and will be responsible for ensuring independence remains the “golden thread” running through every portfolio area.

He is also leading on the Government’s Building a New Scotland series of white papers making the positive case for independence.

Labour peer George Foulkes also wrote to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt recently, raising concerns about public funds being used to pay the ministerial salary of Hepburn.

Asked what his response was to Jack, Marks told the committee: “It is for the First Minister to appoint his ministerial team, given his priorities, and that ministerial team is then voted on by this Parliament.

“Then it is for the civil service to serve that ministerial team with impartiality.

“We serve the Government of the day, that includes with regards to constitutional reform and it has been well understood under devolution for many years that the civil service in the Scottish Government serves the Scottish Government and their priorities and we provide policy advice including the development of the prospectus paper series for this Government to set out its constitutional objectives.

“As we eluded to earlier, that is not just theoretical debate or strategic long-term debate, it is a here and now reality, whether that be regarding the use of Section 35 or the interaction with the UK Internal Market Act.”

Marks, who became permanent secretary in January 2022, added it was important for the civil service to influence and engage with the UK Government with regards to the constitution and devolution settlement.

He said: “From my perspective there is very clear, proper and regular grounds for the First Minsiter to appoint his ministerial team.

“There is a clear set of constitutional priorities here and now which need advising on and tackling because if we’re going to deliver this government’s programme, we need to continue to influence and engage with the UK Government with regards to the devolution settlement and the constitution."

Marks finished off his response by referencing Ciaran Martin, a professor at Oxford University, who talks "a lot about devolution and its history of change”.

Marks said: “It’s not a history of stagnation so, to an extent, it is important I have a capability as part of the civil service in Scotland equipped to serve ministers in this Government, not just now but also recognising things can change in the future.

“We will continue to seek a Section 30 order so that any referendum would always be on lawful grounds but also recognising the UK General Election in 24/25, and clearly the future of the constitution of the UK could change again, and we need have a capability ready to respond.”