I’m not surprised, because it’s become increasingly important politically, economically and now environmentally – in addition to involving fascinating technological developments and the appeal of the simple joy of travel. It’s also a fiendishly complicated and diverse sector – I regularly describe the railways as a parallel universe – and a tough gig for any minister to quickly master.
Thus it’s disappointing that the first former transport minister to become First Minister has chosen to move two of the three ministers previously responsible for transport as part of his government reshuffle. While Patrick Harvie stays on at active travel – walking, wheeling and cycling – transport minister Jenny Gilruth has been elevated to the Cabinet as Education Secretary and Transport Secretary Michael Matheson has been shifted to health.
Replacing Ms Gilruth is former mental well-being and social care minister and Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart. Transport will be handled in Cabinet by Clydesdale MSP Màiri McAllan, although it has been omitted from her title of Net Zero and Just Transition Secretary and the Scottish Government only confirmed to me it was part of her portfolio a day after her appointment.
I’m hoping for a minimum hiatus as the new two get up to speed – lots of reading for them over the Easter recess. I’ll be keeping a close eye on things to see that there is no let-up in progress on the crucial work Ms Gilruth launched a year ago on improving women and girls’ safety on public transport, which I’d expect Ms McAllan to now champion – and equally Mr Stewart.
Meantime, perhaps her new role will provide Ms Gilruth with an opportunity to tackle the core of the problem – male attitudes – from the earliest age, as I have advocated several times. Regardless of whether transport is added to Ms McAllan’s title, her boss will be mindful of the crucial role it plays, having been transport minister from 2016 to 2018.
As his predecessor Derek Mackay also found before him, the job involves all the tough stuff like ScotRail and CalMac. Glitzy projects were reserved for Cabinet Secretaries, like Keith Brown for the Queensferry Crossing. But it’s also been a bit of a rite of passage to the top – Mr Mackay went on to be Finance Secretary before his fall from grace, while I imagine Nicola Sturgeon wanted to put Mr Yousaf through his paces, perhaps even seeing him back then as a potential future First Minister, in appointing him to the role.
However, the jibes Mr Yousaf has faced about his time as transport minister are misplaced. For SNP leadership rival Kate Forbes to criticise him because “the trains were never on time” was a cheap shot over a complex problem. Most of the ScotRail delays at the time were also caused by track and signalling problems which are the responsibility of UK Government-owned Network Rail.
I believe ministers should rightly be taken to task for specific decisions they make, but that reproach was as fatuous as Mr Yousaf being criticised months after taking over the job for admitting he wasn’t a transport expert. I’ve been covering it for 20 years and still wouldn’t call myself one.