SCOTLAND Secretary Alister Jack laughed when he was asked if the UK Government would have “a better position to unleash Scotland’s potential than the Scottish Government has”.

Jack’s response came during a sometimes tense Scottish Affairs Committee meeting in which his unelected Scotland Office colleague, Tory donor Malcolm Offord, was asked if he was embarrassed to have been ennobled after failing to win election.

Committee chair Pete Wishart said: “You stood for democratic election only a few months ago, you weren’t successful and all of a sudden you find yourself ennobled... and you’re now a member of government. How do you feel about that?”

The Edinburgh financier – who was a Tory candidate in May – replied: “I’m pleased to be selected, if not elected, because none of the Lords, as you know, are elected.”

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He went on: “I don’t see there’s any anomaly there whatsoever. It’s a great honour and privilege for me to be involved.

“And all government departments have a Lords minister.

“There is a Lords minister required to help take legislation through parliament and it seems to be only right that the Scotland Office has the same ability.”

Offord and Jack were before the cross-party panel to answer questions on the Levelling-Up Fund, the UK-wide Union Connectivity Review and more. In his opening remarks, he told MPs that Offord “has a track record supporting Scottish exporters and we are very privileged he has put that expertise at the disposal of the Scotland Office as we seek to help our business community take advantage of the exciting new global trade deals UK Government is signing”.

Jack said the economy is performing “incredibly well, given the brutal impact of the pandemic over the past two years”, with Scottish exports up 4% to an estimated £87 billion.

On the Union Connectivity Review, he repeated his criticism of the Scottish Government for “refusing to engage” during his opening statement, adding: “I hope now it is published and people can see for themselves the strength of the proposals, the Scottish Government will have a change of heart. I repeat my offer to work with them to improve Scotland’s transport links.”

And, under questioning, he said Michael Matheson and Michael Russell had both separately told their Holyrood officials “strictly” not to engage with Westminster counterparts on the Union Connectivity Review and Internal Market Bill, respectively.

Responding to that, Matheson’s Transport Scotland later said UK ministers should “respect” the fact that transport is devolved to Holyrood, and “if UK ministers really want to play a helpful role, then they could simply deliver the funding we need for such infrastructure investment in line with established budgetary mechanisms for Scotland to determine our spending priorities”.

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Sally-Ann Hart, the Tory MP for Hastings and Rye, asked Jack if the Shared Prosperity and Levelling-Up funds meant his government would have “a better position to unleash Scotland’s potential than the Scottish Government has”.

Laughing, Jack stumbled to find the words before saying: “It’s teamwork, okay?

“There are things that can... I believe in devolution. I believe that the Scottish Government should be practicing correctly the devolved settlement from the Scotland Act 1998 and using the powers therein and we’ve, as I said, augmented those powers coming out of the European Union, but I also think there’s a role for the United Kingdom Government in Scotland and across the United Kingdom and I think there’s real devolution in getting money directly to projects in local authorities and practicing this principle of localism where they know best what’s needed in their area, so I think it’s a blend that gets us to the right place.

“But I’m not going to sit here and criticise one partner in that blend. I think we’ve all got our roles to play.”

Hart asked if the Scottish Government was “capable of working with the UK Government to achieve the best possible outcomes for Scotland”. Jack said: “I would say yes, it is capable, and yes, it will work for us because noone ever turned down money – free money.”