BORIS Johnson has hired the backroom operator behind the revival of the Scottish Tories as he faces growing pressure over an independence referendum.
Lord Mark McInnes is leaving his job as director of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party after 18 years to join Downing Street as a special adviser to the Prime Minister.
A director of the Better Together campaign during the 2014 referendum, Mr McInnes is already a “constitutional adviser” to the Scottish Secretary Alister Jack.
His promotion comes as Nicola Sturgeon says she wants a second referendum by 2024, Covid permitting, with independence in 2026 if there is a Yes vote.
Mr Johnson has so far refused, saying now is not the time, and the nation’s focus should be on economic recovery from the pandemic.
However the recruitment of a veteran campaigner such as Mr McInnes suggests Downing Street is gearing up for a fight, either Indyref2 or a concerted effort to avoid it.
Mr Johnson sacked his last top adviser on Scotland, former MP Luke Graham, in February.
Mr Graham has been the £90,000 head of Downing Street’s Union Unit for less than a year before departing amidst an internal power struggle.
A former Edinburgh City Councillor, Mr McInnes, 44, helped drive the turnaround in Tory fortunes north of the border, as the party aggressively focused on defending the Union.
Under leader Ruth Davidson, the Tories overtook Labour to become the main opposition at Holyrood in 2016, and held that position under Douglas Ross in May’s election.
Born in Ayrshire, Mr McInnes was ennobled as Lord McInnes of Kilwinning in 2016.
In a statement to party members, Scottish Tory chairman Rab Foreman said: “After 18 years as Director of the Scottish party, Mark McInnes will be leaving us to take up a new position as a Special Adviser to the Prime Minister.
“Over the last two decades, Mark has been instrumental in driving forward the revival of our party in Scotland and he moves on from his post as Director of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party with our grateful thanks and best wishes for the future.”
Mr McInnes said: “I want to say a sincere ‘thank you’ to all the party members, activists and supporters who it has been my pleasure to work with over the years.
“Together we have achieved so much, helping win the 2014 referendum, contributing to the election of Conservative governments, and firmly establishing the Scottish Conservatives as Scotland’s second biggest party and real alternative to the SNP.
“I know that the party will go on to even greater success in future.”
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “On behalf of the whole party, I wish Mark every success in his new role.
“He has been central to the renewal of our party over the last decade and has made an invaluable contribution to the Conservative and Unionist cause as Director, as a constituency agent before that and, as we all were to begin with, a voluntary activist.
“Now he is moving on to fresh challenges and he does so with our thanks and best wishes.”
Mr McInnes’s exit leaves Mr Ross acutely short of senior staff.
The Scottish Tories said a new director would be appointed “in due course”.
In recent weeks, the Tories have also advertised for new heads of media and research at Holyrood, as well as a chief of staff for Mr Ross.