DOUGLAS Ross's questions were brushed off by the Scotland Office’s top civil servant as he sought to draw out criticism of the Minister for Independence.

The Scottish Tory leader was told that the appointment was "entirely" for Humza Yousaf's government to decide and not something that a neutral civil servant would comment on.

Ross had used his time at a committee hearing at Westminster to bring up SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn’s role in the Scottish Government, which was created by the new First Minister after he took office.

Ross aimed a question at Lyn McDonald, a civil servant who is acting director of the Scotland Office. He said: “JP Marks, the head civil servant in the Scottish Government, has dismissed some of the criticism of Humza Yousaf appointing a Minister for Independence.

“As the head civil servant, acting at the moment, in the Scotland Office, what is your view on the First Minister appointing a minister for independence?”

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McDonald said she would not like to comment because it is “entirely up to them to appoint who they want as a minister”.

Expanding on the role of the civil service, she went on to say: “We work under a code that allows us to work on non-political matters. Every civil servant is aware of that code and aware of how to go about it if they have any problems with it.

“As a lead civil servant, as the person who looks after my own office, I make it very clear with my staff, if and when they feel uncomfortable or that the work they are being asked to do is not within that code that they absolutely have a right to come to me and speak about it.

“I’m very pleased to say that’s never happened, to my knowledge, ministers are more than aware of when it’s political and when it’s within our remit and it has worked well. I’ve been here for 36 years and I’ve never had occasion to raise it as an issue.”

The National: Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross is facing potential rebellions within his own party, according to

Ross (above) said he understood that McDonald had to take a “neutral view” – and so asked Scottish Secretary Alister Jack the same question.

The top Tory MP said he thought “taxpayers’ money could be better used elsewhere”.

Jack was appearing at Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee alongside his junior ministers in the Scotland Office, MP John Lamont and peer Malcolm Offord.

Jack’s hearing seemed to go in and out during the meeting. At times he had to delegate the answering of questions to Offord or Lamont as he claimed his tinnitus meant he couldn’t hear the question.

At other times, he stepped in to answer a question in Lamont or Offord’s place, his hearing having apparently been restored.

The National:

The Scottish Secretary (above) was quizzed early on in the session on the language which he chooses to use to talk about the Scottish Government – despite simultaneously claiming he was aiming to foster good relations with his Edinburgh counterparts.

Committee chair Pete Wishart said: “I don’t think that inter-government relations have ever been at such a low ebb … they seem to be characterised by mistrust, by never-ending conflict, and a sense of diktat.”

“What are you doing personally, what is your office doing, to try and improve the atmosphere and the culture and operation and working between the two governments?”

Jack said: “I think what I’ve tried to bring to the job is honesty and a clear position from the UK Government so that the Scottish Government know where we are on positions, not to fudge any issues, it’s not the way I do things.”

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Wishart pushed: “I wonder how helpful you think like ‘destroy the UK’, that type of language is.”

“I think it’s honest,” Jack responded. “I said at the beginning I’m honest. It’s an honest position. They want to destroy the United Kingdom.”

Wishart said: “There’s being honest and there’s using language which is not in the least bit constructive.”

The SNP MP said that Jack’s comment was likely to “make the situation worse” rather than improve the frosty relations between the UK and Scottish Governments.

But Jack refused to budge, initially suggesting he did not know what comment Wishart was referring to, before going on: “I think if we come at this honestly and we acknowledge that they want to destroy the United Kingdom, they want to bring it to an end, they want to break it, whatever language you want to use, and they know that I want to strengthen it … we then find the bit in the middle where we can work together.”

Speaking later in the committee, Ross brought up the exchange again. He asked Jack if he thought Nicola Sturgeon’s language around the gender reform bill – in which she said some of its opponents were homophobic and transphobic – had contributed to the climate.

Jack gave a standard response to the soft question, saying the former first minister’s language had been “inflammatory”.

“I think that sort of language is very inflammatory,” he said.