Deposit return scheme Scotland: Why Alister Jack is scoring victories over the Scottish Government with deeply critical comments
For some in the SNP, he’s considered a joke, a posh-sounding minister they think is off to take an unelected role. Asked last week to say something nice about Mr Jack, SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn could only answer “he’s an easy opponent”.
But away from his future, whatever that may be, Mr Jack has been enjoying his role as Scottish secretary as late, with a series of big wins.
Whether it’s on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, Scotland’s ailing deposit return scheme (DRS), or a Supreme Court verdict on independence, the close ally of Boris Johnson has scored repeated victories over the SNP, regardless of your views on the merit of his arguments.
This has been done without the inflammatory rhetoric of some of his ministerial colleagues, with the Dumfries and Galloway instead the quiet critic, calmly dismissing opponents and finding faults in legislation, rather than resorting to confrontation.
He pointed to interference with the Equalities Act, the Internal Market Bill, or devolution itself, triumphing on policy, individual details requiring the Scottish Government to back to the drawing board.
On all these issues, even if the Scottish Government is being actively blocked from legislating, Mr Jack seeks to portray it as upholding the devolution settlement, making sure the rules are followed, rather than engaging with the merits of policy.
At a Scottish Affairs Committee appearance on Monday, Mr Jack made clear any attempts for compensation on DRS have "got nothing to do with the UK Government", without outright saying he thought the policy was fundamentally wrong.
His approach is seen by those in the Scotland Office as a wider attempt to try and work together, insisting this is not rhetoric, but a genuine desire from him and his colleagues to work with the Scottish Government.
They point to examples like green freeports, something initially resisted by the Scottish Government, only to come around as businesses supported it.
Mr Jack isn’t the most compelling minister, his words do not steal headlines, but his focus on constructive criticism keeps delivering for the UK Government.
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