Cabinet reshuffle: Six ministers go as Nicola Sturgeon wields axe

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has overseen the most dramatic reshuffle since the SNP came to power, with six ministers '“ including beleaguered health secretary Shona Robison '“ leaving government.

Ms Robison, whose stewardship of the NHS had led to repeated calls for her resignation, was one of three cabinet secretaries to quit on a day that also saw the departure of three junior ministers.

The reshuffle saw Humza Yousaf promoted to the Cabinet to take over as justice secretary from Michael Matheson, who has also come under fire for his handling of Police Scotland controversies.

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Mr Matheson will remain in the Cabinet, taking over a ­newly-created portfolio as secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity.

New cabinet membersJeane Freeman and Humza Yousaf with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her deputy John Swinney on the steps of Bute House after the government reshuffle. Picture:  PANew cabinet membersJeane Freeman and Humza Yousaf with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her deputy John Swinney on the steps of Bute House after the government reshuffle. Picture:  PA
New cabinet membersJeane Freeman and Humza Yousaf with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her deputy John Swinney on the steps of Bute House after the government reshuffle. Picture: PA

In addition to Mr Yousaf, four others were promoted to the Cabinet, including Michael Russell, who will continue to look after Brexit and constitutional matters.

• READ MORE: Scottish Government Cabinet Reshuffle: Who’s in and Who’s out?

The other new faces are Aileen Campbell, Shirley-Anne Somerville and Jeane Freeman, who will take over from Ms Robison. In recognition of the new benefits system coming to Scotland, Ms Somerville takes up a new post as Cabinet secretary for social security.

Not so lucky were Keith Brown and Angela Constance, who resigned as economy ­secretary and communities secretary. Mr Brown left as Scotland’s GDP still lags behind the rest of the UK.

As the newly elected SNP depute leader, Mr Brown will become a “standing campaign director” for the party. His role will be to build the case for independence and prepare the party for future elections.

His economy brief will now come under the control of finance secretary Derek Mackay, who remains in place with an expanded portfolio.

The departing cabinet secretaries will lose the £41,618 a year they receive on top of their MSPs’ salary of £55,381 for being in office. They will, however, be entitled to a resettlement grant of around £10,000.

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The three junior ministers to lose their jobs were Dr Alasdair Allan, Annabelle Ewing and Maureen Watt, who left their posts as community ­safety minister, legal affairs minister and mental health minister.

• READ MORE: Scottish Government Cabinet Reshuffle LIVE: Nicola Sturgeon confirms new appointments

At junior minister level, Ms Sturgeon last night announced that Kevin Stewart will remain housing minister.

After six years as minister for parliamentary business, Joe FitzPatrick has been given the public health portfolio, focusing on tackling obesity.

Maree Todd will remain ­minister for children and young people, while Paul Wheelhouse will take on a new role covering energy, connectivity and the islands. Jamie Hepburn has become the minister for business, fair work and skills.

Ms Sturgeon said she was bringing “fresh talent” to government as she increased the size of Cabinet from ten to 12 to deal with Brexit and Scotland’s new social security system.

Ms Freeman, the new health secretary, is regarded as one of the SNP’s rising stars and has been promoted from her post as junior minister for social security.

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Ms Robison, one of Ms Sturgeon’s closest friends, had been under intense pressure in her role as health secretary. Labour and the Liberal Democrats had called for her resignation over a series of missed health targets.

The Dundee City East MSP was also criticised for failing to take quick enough action to get to grips with the NHS Tayside financial scandal that saw endowment cash used for ­routine medical items.

In her resignation letter, Ms Robison disclosed she had faced personal challenges as well as professional ones ­during three-and-a-half years in the job.

She said the job of health secretary had been “very challenging and all-consuming”, adding she had difficult personal issues to confront in the past year, including the death of her parents and a personal health scare.

In her letter, Ms Robison said: “As you know this year has been particularly challenging for me personally. Losing both my parents, having a health scare of my own and some big changes in my personal life. I thank you for your support during these difficult times.

“I feel that I have reached a point in my life just now where I would be best to step down from a role in government. I have entered a new chapter in my life, including a new relationship, where it would be good to take time to focus on those closest to me, who have too often had to come second place to my job, which has been hard for us all.”

Earlier this month Ms Robison revealed she had been recalled as part of the breast cancer screening programme. To her relief, she got the all- clear.

She found the spotlight on her private life when her husband, SNP MP Stewart Hosie, began a new relationship with blogger Serena Cowdy.

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In her reply, Ms Sturgeon noted her friend’s time as health secretary “coincided with a time of unprecedented pressure on our NHS”.

She added: “Our friendship has always been extremely important to me … I know that I will continue to seek your counsel as a colleague and a friend.”

Ms Somerville has been promoted from the junior ministerial ranks to new Cabinet post as cabinet secretary for social security and older people. She will oversee the operational delivery of the first social security payments.

Ms Campbell has been promoted from public health minister to replace Ms Constance as cabinet secretary for communities and local government.

Mr Russell, a former education secretary, has returned to the Cabinet table as Brexit minister. He adds the government business and constitutional relations portfolios, his post upgraded to Cabinet ­status.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney will remain in post as education secretary. Fergus Ewing stays rural economy secretary, while Roseanna Cunningham and Fiona Hyslop remain at environment and culture respectively.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The new Cabinet I am announcing today brings fresh talent to the Scottish Government and ensures that we are fully equipped to meet the challenges and opportunities ­facing the country in the months and years ahead.

“With the impact of Brexit on our economy and wider society, it is right that the issues it presents are fully reflected at Cabinet level, while the delivery of a new Scottish social security system also requires a voice at the Cabinet table.”

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Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “It’s now a year since Nicola Sturgeon promised a refresh of her government, so this reshuffle has been a long time coming.

“There may well have been a few ministerial changes but this is an SNP government that is tired, completely out of ideas and all over the place on key issues. The people of ­Scotland are coming to the view that Nicola Sturgeon’s time is 

Labour parliamentary business manager Rhoda Grant said: “On jobs, schools and hospitals the SNP government has been out of touch and out of ideas for too long.

“On the day Nicola Sturgeon chose to shake up her government, she had to shelve her flagship bill to reform the education system and oversaw the worst cancer waiting times on record.”

She added: “The economy secretary has been booted from his job to plan a ­referendum campaign, which says something about Keith Brown’s performance or the SNP’s priorities – or most ­likely both.”