Scott Macnab: No reshuffle for Nicola Sturgeon?

Nicola Sturgeon on tour at Edinburgh Corn Exchange. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Nicola Sturgeon on tour at Edinburgh Corn Exchange. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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WHEN Jack McConnell took over as First Minister in late 2001, he immediately stamped his authority on Labour with his infamous “night of the long knives” reshuffle which saw five then Executive ministers axed.

Will Nicola Sturgeon feel the need for a similar shake-up when she takes over the helm of the SNP government next month?

The departure of Alex Salmond and her own elevation to First Minister leaves at least one vacancy. But a reshuffle has been widely touted with under-fire justice secretary Kenny MacAskill among those being tipped to go. He has faced a difficult few years with the mass closure of police counters to the public and his handling of the recent armed policing row. But the creation of a single national police force was always a mammoth undertaking and it may be that posterity – and perhaps Ms Sturgeon – takes a more sympathetic view of MacAskill’s ability in overseeing and pushing through such a fundamental overhaul so swiftly. And as a Glasgow MSP herself, she may find some merit in the geographical balance of holding on to the only Edinburgh MSP in the cabinet.

Health secretary Alex Neil is also vulnerable, not least because of the recent Holyrood vote calling for his dismissal. But his travails in the health portfolio were as much down to the legacy left to him by Ms Sturgeon, his predecessor, as anything else. And she may also be reluctant to have such an able politician potentially causing trouble. Even before Mr Neil was appointed a minister, Alex Salmond was always keen to keep his old adversary onside. His numerous TV appearances in the first parliament, sanctioned by the party, even earned him the nickname “Minister for Newsnight”.’

Education secretary Mike Russell might also be seen as another of the old guard in line to be shifted. But this is crucial period for the education system with a new national exam regime about to be implemented and the new First Minister may not want to rock the boat.

Even if Ms Sturgeon does opt for wider change, who might come into her Cabinet? Humza Yousaf has impressed as a junior minister for external affairs and perhaps the time has come for him to step up to Cabinet level. The new First Minister may also been keen to perpetuate the SNP’s Ewing dynasty. Annabelle Ewing, daughter of Nationalist icon Winnie, has been part of Ms Sturgeon’s leadership drive and a junior ministerial position may be on the cards.

Ms Sturgeon has been groomed for the SNP’s top role for more than a decade and won the leadership unopposed. She may feel her authority is solid enough without a sweeping reshuffle.