Scots Secretary role consigned to history books after 305 years
THE post of Scottish Secretary is set to be scrapped at Westminster as a consequence of the IRA being declared redundant as a paramilitary organisation.
The post – which was created in 1703 and even pre-dates that of prime minister – will be replaced by a Secretary of State for the Nations, The Scotsman understands.
This follows yesterday's conclusion by an independent commission that the IRA's army council, which directed its terror campaigns for 30 years, had "withered away" and left the organisation unable to function.
This will allow policing and justice matters to be transferred from Westminster to Stormont in the next few days, completing the process of devolving political powers to the Northern Ireland executive and removing the last bar to amalgamating the posts of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish secretaries.
A senior government source last night told The Scotsman that it was "just a logical consequence" to combine the three jobs once devolving of remaining powers to Northern Ireland had become "embedded".
The changes would almost certainly mean that Des Browne, who has been Scottish Secretary since June 2007, would lose what critics have dubbed a part-time role to concentrate on his Defence Secretary post.
But it would see the scrapping of a post that has been held by figures such as Willie Ross, George Younger, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Donald Dewar.
The most likely candidates to become Secretary of State for the Nations are understood to be Jim Murphy, the highly regarded Europe Minister and MP for East Renfrewshire, and Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary. Paul Murphy is likely to be favoured if it is thought Northern Ireland needs special attention in the interim as he has been a former Secretary of State in the province.
There is also the hope in Labour circles that a new appointment would be able to spend more time attacking the performance of the SNP Government, and First Minister Alex Salmond, at Holyrood.
While the scrapping of the post of Scottish Secretary has been frequently speculated upon since the establishment of the devolved Scottish government at Holyrood in 1999, the stumbling block has been the need to retain a Northern Ireland Secretary.
But yesterday's report, from the Independent Monitoring Commission, was seen as a "crystal clear" indication that the IRA was effectively dead and its former members were now fully engaged in seeking to achieve their aims by political means.
The source said the post of Secretary of State for the Nations "was the logical place to go to. It gives you a full-time politician dealing with these areas. It's always been round the corner".
However the Tories said they were concerned that the scrapping of the post, which has existed in its present form since 1885, would remove a vital voice for Scotland in Downing Street.
David Mundell, the Tory shadow Scottish Secretary, said the move was "ill-conceived".
He said: "Part of the role of Secretary of State for Scotland is to speak up for Scotland in the Cabinet. It's not possible to do that effectively when you are speaking for other parts of the UK.
"Peter Hain really struggled when he was doing Wales and Northern Ireland and a number of competing issues came up."
The switch from three Secretaries of State to one is expected to be accompanied by a move to appoint two Ministers of State to assist the senior minister, letting each minister concentrate on one devolved administration.
Significant boost for Nationalist rule at Holyrood
Scottish Political Editor
THE post of Scottish Secretary has been of diminishing importance since the arrival of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 but symbolically, it remains hugely significant.
If Gordon Brown axes the post, it will represent the cutting of yet another bond trying Scotland to the UK government in Westminster.
The fact that Scotland no longer needs its own representation round the No 10 Cabinet table will only add to the impression that Scotland's reliance on Westminster is declining by the day.
It is perhaps more significant that this action is likely to be taken when there is an SNP First Minister in Bute House.
When Labour controlled both the Scottish Executive and the UK government, lines of communication were easy and always open. Jack McConnell, Henry McLeish and Donald Dewar did not need to have their case argued by their respective Scottish Secretaries, because they could go to the Prime Minister direct.
But now, with Alex Salmond as First Minister, the Scottish Secretary would have possibly been useful as a go-between between the administrations in London and Edinburgh.
The fact that Mr Brown appears to have decided to do away with the position now does show how ineffectual the job has become over the last few years.
Not since Mr Dewar had to fight his Cabinet colleagues over every piece of the devolution settlement in 1998 has the Scottish Secretary had a tough job to do.
The Nationalists will be delighted with the abolition of the Scottish Secretary's position, and not only because it puts more distance between Holyrood and Westminster, but because it will add more weight to the joint ministerial committee, the formal body set up to arbitrate on disputes between the devolved administrations and the London government.
Brown hails verdict that IRA terrorist wing defunct
THE IRA's terrorist wing was declared redundant yesterday after a report found it had been allowed to "wither" and die.
Three years after the organisation decommissioned its weapons, the Independent Monitoring Commission said its army council – which directed attacks – had been disbanded.
Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, called for the power-sharing executive at Stormont to resume its work and hailed an "important and significant day for Northern Ireland".
He said: "An independent report has told us that the Provisional Army Council is no longer operational, is not functioning and is redundant.
"I believe that this will provide reassurance and hope for everybody who wants to see this chapter of Northern Ireland's history closed."
Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward said: "If you are talking about the threats ahead, they're not posed by the IRA, they're not posed by the army council. As this report says, the army council, by deliberate choice, is no longer operational or functional. What matters is that the armed conflict is clearly over."
Since the late 1960s, more than 3,500 people have died in the Troubles.
The report said the IRA's "former terrorist capability has been lost". Its former members were now active in the political arena and the IRA of the "recent and violent past is well beyond recall".
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