Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has urged the country’s next first minister not to pick fights with the UK Government, calling for whoever takes over from Nicola Sturgeon to “turn from confrontation to collaboration”.
The Conservative politician said the election of a new SNP leader, who will then go on to become Scotland’s sixth first minister, was a chance to “reset” the relationship with politicians in Westminster.
He challenged whoever follows on from Ms Sturgeon to “put the people of Scotland first” by seeking to work more collaboratively with the UK Government.
Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and former community safety minister Ash Regan are all in the running to succeed Ms Sturgeon, with the winner due to be announced on Monday.
Mr Jack said he would have “fundamental political differences” with whoever that is, but stressed that should not stop the two governments working together.
With the SNP’s first leadership election in almost 20 years drawing to a close, the Tory MP said that the Scottish Government “stands at a crossroads, with a new first minister being selected in the coming days”.
He added: “Whoever wins the leadership election tomorrow faces a fundamental choice which will define their time as first minister.
“It is fair to say that they and I will have fundamental political differences.
“But this should not, must not, be an obstacle to us working together in the interests of Scottish families and businesses.”
He continued: “After eight years of Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership, whoever wins has the chance to seize an opportunity to do things differently, to reset, and to make devolution work better for the people we serve.”
The Scottish Secretary said: “Too often in the past Holyrood ministers have sought conflict with Westminster, simply to further their goal of separation.
“That has sapped the energy, focus and resolve which should have been directed to improving education, tackling drugs deaths, and ensuring people have the reliable transport links they need.
“But despite that, there are strong foundations on which to build.
“We can turn from confrontation to collaboration.
“We know we can achieve much more by working together than by pulling apart.
“These are not just warm words – we have the evidence to prove it.”
Here he cited the city deals programme, which has seen both the Scottish and UK governments investing in locations right across Scotland “to grow local economies, create jobs and invest in the future of our communities”.
He also said the two administrations had jointly announced the establishment of two freeports in Scotland, in the Firth of Forth and the Cromarty Firth, saying these would benefit not just these areas but would help “make the whole country more competitive”.
Mr Jack also said plans for new innovation zones announced in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s recent Budget could see ministers from Edinburgh and London “build on that partnership and develop proposals for Scotland”
The Scottish Secretary went on: “There are many other areas where we can and must work meaningfully together, including on transport, energy, and recycling, and the list goes on.
“As I said, the choice the new first minister makes will define them.
“My advice to them is this, put the people of Scotland first.”