This week reshuffle fever is properly on, and both Cameron and Salmond have carried out the most far-reaching of their respective terms of office – all the more extraordinary in Scotland given the high degree of continuity since 2007.
So what about the Scottish personnel changes? Here’s a personal take on the complete list, and hopefully not too partisan a view. Please do let me know if I’ve got any of the changes of roles wrong too.
First Minister – Alex Salmond (no change)
That would have been a surprise.
Deputy First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon (no change)
A change in DFM would have been almost as surprising. Nicola remains Eck’s preferred successor, and her increasingly warm and measured approach is a good balance to his bluster and swagger.
Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth – John Swinney (no change)
Despite not being DFM, this has been a quasi-Prime Ministerial role for John, again balancing the Great Puddin’s Presidential style and ambitions. It’s a broad portfolio, made more manageable by the limits the Scotland Act places on it in terms of revenue (limits the SNP seem determined to stay well clear of, to my frustration). It is also frustrating to me that John, for all his strengths and personal warmth, pursues inactivity on climate change and a regressive tax policy, but a personnel change here would have been destabilising and implausible.
Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing – Alex Neil in, Nicola Sturgeon out
This feels like the first mistake to me. Many folk I respect think Alex Neil is a big hitter, and it’s certainly better for Salmond that he’s comfortably inside the tent. He is also smart and a good performer in the Chamber, especially on the partisan knockabout. But he’s a bruiser and (having had an office next to him for two years) pretty short on people skills. What’s more, Nicola had an opportunity to shine in the Health role, and she took it. While looking better than a Tory Health Secretary is a low bar, she won round many who’d not taken to her earlier in her career. I foresee a much less smooth relationship with the health professionals here.
Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Spending – Nicola Sturgeon in, Alex Neil out
Nicola will bring competence here, and broadening her Ministerial experience may have much to commend it to the collective project, but this swap basically looks like infrastructure wins and health loses.
Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning – Mike Russell (no change)
Although he’s angered the college sector with his merger plans (part of the SNP’s oddly centralist tendencies alongside police force unification), Mike remains one of the SNP’s few true intellectual heavyweights, and this role continues to be a sensible deployment for him. The mess over tuition fees must remain his biggest headache. I understand their position, especially given European law and financial pressures, but the outcome – that rUK students pay fees here but other EU students do not – is profoundly unfair. If I were Mike I might have wanted a horizontal move at least, perhaps.
Cabinet Secretary for Justice – Kenny Macaskill (no change)
This I was very pleased to see. If you’d told me that the best justice ministers I’d see in my lifetime this far would be a SNP one here and a Tory (now departed) in London I would have boggled. But Kenny is an excellent fit for this role, strong on equalities and truly liberal on justice (on minimum sentencing, for example, more liberal than the Lib Dems). The black mark for the “higher power” guff around Megrahi, a decision I nevertheless supported, is only a minor one.
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment – Richard Lochhead (no change)
I’d have liked to see Mike Russell take this on, perhaps, but certainly at least some change. Lochhead is amiable but appears committed primarily to one part of his brief – supporting an anti-conservation position on fisheries that’s not even in the interests of the industry. Not one of the heavy hitters, and not cabinet standard, for my money.
Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs – Fiona Hyslop (no change)
Not well loved by civil servants, but probably the argument for continuity won out here: it’s been the only vaguely turbulent portfolio, given the unfair sacking of Linda Fabiani, then Mike Russell’s spell here. I’d guess she’d be gone at the next reshuffle, whenever that is.
Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism – Fergus Ewing (no change)
A continuing systematic disappointment. The only consolation is that this natural Tory isn’t let anywhere near social policy.
Minister for Local Government and Planning – Derek Mackay (no change)
Expected to be one of the rising stars of the new intake, he’s not impressed as much yet as predicted. I suspect he’ll get there, though.
Minister for Children and Young People – Aileen Campbell (no change)
As with Mackay, great things were expected of the baby of the government, but regular reports from others who’ve dealt with her suggest she’s out of her depth. She’s got an important bill to get through this year, and I hope enough support is available for her through that process. Again, like Mackay, she might get there, but it just might not happen in time.
Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages - Alasdair Allan (no change)
Hard-working, level-headed, warm, and the deliverer of Holyrood’s best Tam O’Shanter (to my knowledge), he’s under pressure in his constituency, and this role must be partly with an eye to boosting his profile back home. Even if that wasn’t the case, though, he’s certainly solid Ministerial material.
Minister for Youth Employment – Angela Constance (no change)
Still somewhat under-rated, I think, and could probably have hoped for a promotion.
Minister for Parliamentary Business – Joe Fitzpatrick in, Bruce Crawford and Brian Adam out
Bruce is leaving on personal grounds and in some sad circumstances, but he is a major loss to the Government. Back when this was a hard job, during minority 2007-11, he worked the opposition parties, including us, with warmth, honesty, and as much openness as the position permitted. We knew his role was at least in part to make us like him, and it worked. He’s one of the non-Greens I personally miss now I’m out of the Big Hoose. It’s fortunate that Fitzpatrick doesn’t have as much to do in this role (hence perhaps the more junior title and the assumption of the whip’s position too) because he’s primarily notable for his loyalty and desire for office.
Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs – Roseanna Cunningham (no change)
The more I’ve seen Roseanna in action and on Twitter, the less I’ve taken to her. A bullying tone, an inability to listen, and a true sense that “we are the masters now” is how the SNP should operate. But I see why she couldn’t be moved down or out, given the SNP’s internal politics.
Minister for Environment and Climate Change – Paul Wheelhouse in, Stewart Stevenson out
This could be a major chink of light on some core concerns for Greens. Stevenson is his own biggest fan, and his adulation is misplaced. He never understood how other policy (e.g. on energy or transport) could and should be used effectively to tackle climate change, nor did he ever show any sign of interest in making alternatives to the car more affordable and accessible. Wheelhouse is one of the best of the 2011 intake, I believe he will listen, and frankly almost anyone would have been better here.
Minister for Transport and Veterans – Keith Brown losing housing, gaining veterans
It’s the weirdest portfolio, designed for Keith in particular. Despite substantial policy differences I’d obviously have with him, he’s nobody’s fool and it wouldn’t have made sense to have taken transport away him. Safe pair of hands.
Minister for Welfare and Housing - Margaret Burgess in, part of Keith Brown’s old role
I’m afraid I have to plead even more ignorance here than usual – she’s one of the 2011 intake that hadn’t really impinged on my consciousness.
Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport – Shona Robison (no change)
EDIT: Apologies, I missed Shona out the first time. Extremely competent without necessarily having found an inspirational voice. Hard to see her making a mess of Ministerial responsibilities around the Games, which must already be the lion’s share of her Ministerial responsibilities. Again, no reason for a change here, and another prospect for promotion next time.
Minister for Public Health – Michael Matheson (no change)
One of the lower-profile stalwarts of the original 1999 intake: a plugger-away rather than a star.
Minister for External Affairs and International Development – Humza Yousaf in (new role)
Last but by no means least, if Humza hadn’t been promoted in any reshuffle I’d have been astonished. As a future FM, surely, this is just the next step, and an interesting role despite the limitations of devolution. Three more promotions to go?