THE Minister for Independence has declined to say whether or not he would support the creation of a cross-party Yes Convention.

During portfolio questions for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture brief, Jamie Hepburn was asked by SNP leadership contender Ash Regan if he agreed that establishing a convention is an “urgent matter”.

Hepburn was also probed on the upcoming Scottish Government white papers by opposition MSPs, after The National exclusively revealed on its Holyrood Weekly podcast that one is set to be published in the “coming weeks”.

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It comes after Alba party leader, and former SNP first minister, Alex Salmond called for the creation of an Independence Convention, and argued that pro-Yes parties should stand one candidate in each Westminster constituency.

Regan told MSPs that “many people” across the UK will be looking at the price of their bills and problems facing the UK, and conclude that “an independent Scotland is more important than ever”.

“Now, with that in mind, I think a cohesive, vibrant, creative, cross party, wider movement is important in that way," she said.

“It's important for designing a successful campaign. It's important for presenting that united front, and then going on to win majority public support.

“So would the Minister agree with me that establishing an independence convention is not only imperative right now, it is also urgent?”

Hepburn replied: “Well, let me agree with the point the member makes in respect of the urgency of the requirement for Scotland to become an independent country.

“My task, of course, is to make the government's case through the series of prospective papers that we will lay out.

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“There are three already published, there will be more to come.

“That's the activity that I will undertake, that will be laid out before the people, and I think that will be a key part of making the case to the wider public.

“When I take the temperature of the independence movement at this moment in time, I see a real sense of unity of purpose, a determination to work collaboratively towards that end and I intend to play my part in that regard.”

Alba criticised Hepburn's response following the exchange, while praising Regan.

“The question from Ash Regan MSP is being echoed the length and breadth of Scotland by activists on the ground," Neale Hanvey MP (pictured below) said.

The National:

"The independence movement would’ve expected a much better answer from the Minister for Independence. 

“Alba’s spring conference redoubled our calls for action on an Independence Convention so Ash Regan MSPs support is to be welcomed by any supporter of independence.

"SNP members expect their leadership to be involved, and Alex Salmond has set out clearly that an independence convention is required so that the movement can lay out a strategy for the country to unite behind. 

“As in 2014, it is the movement who will decide whose voices they wish to listen to. As the marching numbers grow over the summer, many will quite rightly be demanding a better answer from the Minister on delivering independence.“

Scottish Tory MSP Donald Cameron, in a supplementary question, asked Hepburn if he agreed with SNP MP Joanna Cherry that the independence white papers are “lightweight”.

The National:

The Minister for Independence said that the three currently published papers were “compelling” and that he intends to publish “many more” in the coming months.

Scottish Labour’s Neil Bibby asked Hepburn how many staff he had working for him, and the budget allocated to him.

It comes after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack told UK civil servants not to work under Hepburn, while Scotland’s top civil servant defended the appointment of Hepburn to the role during a committee session.

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Hepburn said he only had one full-time member of the civil service working directly under him, his private secretary.

Elsewhere, LibDem MSP Willie Rennie said that Regan should be applauded for “honestly referring to divisions in the independence movement”, and asked if Hepburn would be taking advice from former FM Salmond.

“I’ll be working with dedicated civil servants to craft the independence papers,” Hepburn replied.

And, SNP MSP Ivan McKee asked Hepburn how he intends to reach out to the wider Yes movement.

The Independence Minister said he is in regular contact with a “wide range” of organisations, and is happy to engage with any and all, whether they support independence or not.

We previously told how Hepburn defiantly told Jack: “I’m not going anywhere.”