Scots ministers defence post is his full-time job


GORDON Brown appeared to concede yesterday that he has a figurehead Scottish secretary, saying that the man he has appointed to the post will be doing another job as defence secretary "full time".

The Prime Minister has come under fire over his failure to appoint a full-time Scottish secretary, instead opting to appoint Des Browne to a dual role running both the Scotland Office and the Ministry of Defence.

Mr Brown was put on the defensive when Tory MPs lined up at Prime Minister's Questions to suggest that the defence secretary can no longer focus exclusively on military matters because he has added the Scottish job to his portfolio.

First up was Robert Wilson, Reading East MP, who put it to Mr Brown that his colleague and trusted ally could not be doing a full-time job as defence secretary. He added that the minister was working with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as drawing up "future defence estimates and he is doing a magnificent job on behalf of this country".

That response did not satisfy James Gray, a Scots-born Wiltshire MP who was a former shadow Scottish secretary and like Mr Brown, a son of the manse.

"The secretary of state for defence is fully employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more troops deployed than at any time since the Second World War. Given that, how much time will he be able to devote to his duties in Scotland?" he asked.

Mr Brown suggested the Scotland Office would be run "day-to-day" by David Cairns, a junior minister promoted to minister of state in last week's reshuffle.

There have also been suggestions that Mr Browne's dual status has caused some concern among the military. Messages posted on internet sites commonly used by serving and former service personnel have been critical.

One commentator on the Army Rumour Service site, used by many soldiers, said: "Lumping Defence and Scotland together is both ludicrous and contemptuous. 'Swiss Des' will get it in the neck at every defence questions for not devoting his energies solely to the security of the nation and the equipment and welfare of the Armed Forces, deservedly so."

Another said: "Well, as a considerable part of our operational efforts are being conducted by part-timers [TA, reservists] this is quite appropriate."

Another said: "Perhaps it is a reflection of the government's trust in the MODthat it feels total commitment by the defence secretary is not required."

One commentator on the Professional Pilots Rumour Network, used by many RAF personnel, said: "The fact that they think one minister can handle these two posts shows the government's commitment to defence."

Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster leader, said that the questions posed during Prime Minister's Questions would also expose what the role of the Scotland Office was.

He said: "With devolution now well established, there is a serious question to be considered in Whitehall as to why there is a need for this 19th-century administrative organisation."

A source close to Mr Browne dismissed the concerns about the dual role as unjustified. They added that the Cabinet minister had already made clear he would work as hard as he had to to take on both roles "even if he has to get up an hour earlier".

They added that "He sees being defence secretary as a major role and he has made the safety of people in Iraq and Afghanistan his priority during his time." Mr Browne had visited Iraq six times and Afghanistan three times in just over a year since he became defence secretary.

Last week, Downing Street played down the significance of a part-time Scottish secretary, insisting that a precedent had been set as Douglas Alexander had combined the role when he was also transport secretary.

However, there are concerns that the SNP in Holyrood will try to exploit tensions in England so greater efforts have to be made to harmonise relations.

In part, the reshuffle was meant to address those fears, by giving a bigger role to Mr Cairns. The Scotland Office will also be beefed up with extra staff and Mr Cairns' remit will be to liase with ministers across every Whitehall department.

The Brown government will also seek to quell rising tensions among English MPs about the supposedly "unfair" financial settlement given to Scotland under the Barnett formula.

• A LIBERAL Democrat attack on Alex Salmond over his Westminster salary appeared to have backfired last night.

The Lib Dems, and later the Conservatives, yesterday criticised the First Minister after it emerged that he is still drawing a full £60,000 salary as MP for Banff and Buchan.

Mr Salmond was elected as MSP for Gordon in May. During his Holyrood election campaign, he pledged only to draw one parliamentary salary.

Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem Scottish spokesman at Westminster, said that Mr Salmond had to explain himself, and suggested the First Minister should pay back his MP salary.

But the Scottish Executive revealed that under the Scotland Act, Mr Salmond has no choice but to draw his MP pay and a third of his MSP pay.

Mr Salmond promised that new arrangements were being made to reduce his salary, and said the changes would be back-dated.

Honourable mentions for Arrse & Pprune.

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