Tom Peterkin: Nicola Sturgeon mixes old and new

Nicola Sturgeon opted against major surgery. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Nicola Sturgeon opted against major surgery. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Nicola Sturgeon’s first Cabinet was a chance for the new First Minister to put down a marker at the outset of her leadership. Having made much of her commitment to gender equality this week she led by example and produced a Cabinet with a strong feminine side featuring women in key positions such as Health and Education.

It was obvious that Kenny MacAskill had to go and it would appear that he wanted to go, having endured years of constant criticism.

Mike Russell has also had his share of criticism, over college funding in particular. He posted a gracious tweet wishing his successor well and the official line was that he was also happy to leave. One suspects, however, that he will not find losing high office easy. In letting him go, Sturgeon must realise that there is a risk that he could prove to be a thorn in the leadership’s side from the backbenches.

Alex Neil is another who has given SNP leaders headaches in the past. Perhaps that is why he has remained inside Sturgeon’s tent, although he has been dropped from the health portfolio moving to a newly-created social justice post.

Sturgeon’s belief in social justice was also reflected in the brief given to Roseanna Cunningham. Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work Skills and Training is a new title with responsibility for youth and women’s employment.

Although there are a couple of new faces at Cabinet level, Keith Brown and Michael Matheson, this reshuffle is far from a radical shake-up.

Familiar faces abound. John Swinney remains at Finance and his promotion to Deputy First Minister is expected. A feeling of continuity is maintained by the retention of Richard Lochhead as Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary and Fiona Hyslop at Culture. All have junior ministerial experience at least.

Sturgeon has clearly decided that Alex Salmond’s team did not require major surgery. That is unsurprising given that as Deputy First Minister, she played a big role in creating it.