IMAGINE the scene. It is March 2014, a few months before the first independence referendum.

The setting is the marae, or place of encounter, on the roof of the wonderful Te Papa Tongarewa – the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington.

I was there as Scottish education secretary, taking part in an OECD Conference and speaking about the Curriculum for Excellence. The event was the formal conference opening and as it concluded guests from around the world were gestured forward to rub noses – the traditional Maori greeting – with their hosts. As I did so, an elderly distinguished-looking man noticed my name badge and said: “Scotland, eh? I hear you are going to be your own boss soon!”

READ MORE: Tories 'treating Scottish ministers like children', expert says

The only possible reply was “Let’s hope so” and he grinned when I gave it. He was, of course, not the only person interested in Scotland during that momentous year and over the next few days, I answered lots of questions about the independence campaign from virtually all the ministers present including the then American education secretary.

Thank goodness, however, that this was before the advent of Alister Jack. If his proposed diktat regarding what Scottish ministers mustn’t talk about had been in place a decade ago, I would have had to leap back from the nose-rubbing and tell that kindly inquiring Maori chief that Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State for Scotland forbade me to comment on the matter.

Then for the next few days, I would have been expected to avoid any mention of the thing that everyone wanted to know about, and change the subject whenever it was raised. That would have been difficult enough, but later on, during my five years as the Scottish Government’s Brexit minister, I would have been forbidden to disclose even the incontrovertible fact that the people of Scotland voted substantially against leaving the EU.

The National: The EU flags flying outside the Berlaymont building in Brussels. Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE.

From Brussels to Berlin I would have had to sit in silence whilst European politicians told me that Brexit was a crazy self-harming idea and asked whether Scotland had a means to choose independence and apply for EU membership, knowing that if I dared respond, let alone agree, then the UK ambassador hovering at my elbow would snitch on me for my “transgression” of Jack’s law.

It has never been a secret that Alister Jack hates devolution and would like to see the Scottish Parliament abolished. He is also a keen Brexiteer, as is to be expected, given his wealth. Brexit is, after all, as millionaire and former Tory donor Guy Hands explained last month, “largely about people at the top being able to employ the rest of the country for a lot less and pay a lot less tax”.

It is also obvious that he detests the SNP and the Scottish Government and is intent on obstructing and undermining its entirely legal activities with whatever tools come to hand. Those tactics we now know include using the UK’s network of overseas representation to collect intelligence on Scottish Government ministers – in other words, to snoop on them and report back their “transgressions” when abroad.

READ MORE: Alister Jack lists Scottish minister 'transgressions' in heated committee clash

A “transgression” is a breach of a law, rule or code but of course, no such law, rule or code exists. From the start of devolution, Scottish ministers have been entirely free to say what they want, where they want, about any topic they want, even if the matter is reserved rather than devolved – and still are. That is called freedom of speech.

UK ministers have a reciprocal right of course and have used it without restraint. Penny Mordaunt – one of Jack’s equally snooty and interfering colleagues – attacks the Scottish Government every single week in the Business Questions session in the House of Commons, flagrantly misrepresenting statistics and information about devolved matters.

Of course, there were Tory attempts during the fraught Brexit negotiations to try and silence me – particularly when I visited Brussels to speak to MEPs. David Frost hated being contradicted and I was told several times that Scotland’s seat on the Joint Ministerial Committee was at risk if it publicly dissented from the UK Government’s negotiating line.

READ MORE: Alister Jack insists UK international representation benefits Scotland

My response was always the same – perhaps the UK should work harder to seek our agreement rather than ignoring the views of the people of Scotland. When that happened and we agreed with the UK, we would say so and work together. When we did not agree I was duty bound to say that too.

In both sets of circumstances I was, I always asserted, accountable to the Scottish Parliament and to no-one else.

Such daft gagging could never work in any case, as Jack should have realised after a moment’s thought. In fact, it would only encourage Scottish ministers to speak out and there is no sanction he could impose to stop that unless he chooses to bring gagging legislation to the House of Commons, which would be even more of a messy own goal.

In fact, it could produce a blizzard of own goals if – as would probably be the case – Starmer’s Labour backed such restrictions or abstained and willingly let them happen.

Moreover, in every conversation, in every country, Scottish representatives are already more likely to mention the UK Government’s attempt to shut them up, confirming the impression overseas that the UK after Brexit is increasingly anti-democratic, small-minded, repressive and out of touch. An actual legal proscription would make that 10 times worse.

There is a whiff of colonial disdain in Jack’s remarks but they also speak of something else.

Jack is plainly terrified by the prospect of Scottish independence threatening as it does the position he holds so dear. Disappointed in not having his peerage in the bag – yet – he knows that even worse personal disappointments await when the tide of history sweeps away all such outdated pomposity and privilege.

Pete Wishart was right to laugh at him and his ludicrous approach. We all should.

However, his continuing presence in any part of Scottish governance isn’t a joke – it’s an insult.