This edition of The National’s Grassroots newsletter has been written by Lucy Jackson, multimedia journalist and interim grassroots reporter.

THE events of the last few weeks have been tumultuous, for both Scottish politics and the wider independence movement.

The end of the Bute House Agreement. The SNP forming a minority government. A new First Minister. And now, the latest development in a long list of shake-ups – the role of independence minister has been scrapped.

The role – previously held by Jamie Hepburn – was tasked with advancing the case for Scottish independence across government departments.

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However when the new ministerial team was introduced on Wednesday, the role had been axed, with Swinney arguing in The National that the role’s responsibilities now fall on “all Cabinet Secretaries and ministers”.

The National: John Swinney has appointed his cabinet and ministerial team (Andrew Milligan/PA)

We spoke to grassroots activists to gather their reaction to there no longer being a minister for independence.

How close does independence feel now? What does this decision say about Swinney’s priorities?

There’s perhaps not as much outrage as you’d expect. In fact, some activists we spoke to didn’t see much point in the role in the first place.

Instead, some are suggesting that this is a time to reflect on the progress we’re making with independence, and to remember that growing public support for independence starts at the grassroots level.

Here’s what people had to say.

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, founder of Believe in Scotland, called on the new First Minister to personally take on the portfolio of independence minister, and for the continuation of cross-party collaboration on progressing independence.

“We call on John Swinney to state officially that he personally is now the minister for independence going forward. Furthermore, we believe that every government minister and SNP spokespeople should be briefed to make the case for independence at every opportunity and with more consistency than the SNP have managed since 2014,” he (below) said.

The National: Business For Scotland chief executive Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp pictured speaking at the Trades Hall of Glasgow for the launch of the Believe In Scotland campaign and Scotland The Brief book.

  Photograph by Colin Mearns
22 January 2020
For The National

He added that the SNP should “go all out for independence” at a time when support for independence is high, but support for the SNP is “languishing”.

“Believe in Scotland expects the SNP to maintain its focus on independence as the way to end the damage caused to Scotland's economy by Brexit by rejoining the EU,” MacIntyre-Kemp continued.

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“To end the cost of living crisis and leave the neoliberalism/austerity led economic approach, shared by all the London based parties, in the dustbin of failed economic approaches where it belongs and most importantly, invest in the wellbeing of Scotland's people.”

MacIntyre-Kemp added that he had worked “very closely” with both Swinney and Kate Forbes, the new Deputy First Minister, and said he was looking forward to finding out what their plans were for progressing support for independence.

“I think it makes sense the minister for indy role being scrapped. We need to work on building support for indy and I believe the best way to do that is through grassroots activism and good government. This move keeps the two separate and is no bad thing.

“I think indy feels closer than in 2014. However, not as close as we’d want or hope. The world is a very different place at the moment with challenges left right and centre. Indy is not at the forefront of folks' minds and we need to be honest about this, address the challenges through competent government and show people why indy is necessary.

“John’s leadership slogan was uniting for independence. He’s been a member all his adult life and believes in indy with every fibre of his being. I think dropping the role was an olive branch for cross party working and bringing people together. It does not mean he does not care about independence.” – Logan Unwin, SNP activist

“Will it make any difference? Will anyone notice?” – Ian McLean, via Twitter

“Creating the post of independence minister was a performative gesture. I don’t recall Jamie Hepburn coming up with new strategies for getting past the UK Govt’s ban on referendums. When he met with pro-indy grassroots groups he came across as passive.

“The post itself was meant to indicate to frustrated indy supporters that the Scottish Government was serious about pursuing indy. Similarly, the abolition of the post is to indicate to soft No voters that the Scottish Government won’t prioritise independence over bread-and-butter issues.

“Whatever the SNP do, non-party affiliated groups like Pensioners for Independence will carry on fighting for the right to choose our own sovereign governments and keep our own taxes in Scotland.” – Mary McCabe, Pensioners for Independence

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“Independence is a long way away, and that’s okay. To (successfully) win independence without dividing the country (like Brexit did) you need more than ~50% of the country to support it. You need devolution levels of support they saw in the 1997 referendum to take the whole country with you.

“The easiest way to get that? Is for the SNP to govern well. They need to demonstrate that they are capable of ‘grown up’ politics. That’s how they achieved such a high vote share in 2011/2016/2021 and that’s what they’re lacking now. Scrapping the minister for independence role shows they are taking their responsibilities as the governing party of the country seriously and, in my humble opinion, should be commended.

“I recognise the merits of independence but do not think it’s right to push for it at a time which will cause division and likely put us in a similar position that Brexit has (not just economically but also socially)!” – Stewart Duncan

“It's a good move because it removes a stick that the media and opposition used to beat the Scottish govt with. Anyway, every minister and cab sec should be a strong advocate of independence so it shouldn't make any difference.” – Dick Winchester, via Twitter