Lord Advocate excluded from new Cabinet

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SCOTLAND'S top law officer will no longer sit in the Scottish Executive Cabinet, it emerged last night.

The Lord Advocate has sat in on Cabinet meetings for the past eight years but Alex Salmond has decided he wants to de-politicise the post.

Elish Angiolini, the current Lord Advocate, will find out later today whether she has retained the position but, even if she is kept on, she will have to stay out of the Cabinet.

Mr Salmond said he wanted law officers who were "independent of politics".

Under UK law, the Lord Advocate remains a member of the Scottish government and its legal adviser, as well as Scotland's chief prosecutor.

But the post has recently been partly political, and Colin Boyd, Ms Angiolini's predecessor, became clearly associated with the Labour Party.

Ms Angiolini was much more neutral than Mr Boyd and there was some surprise at Holyrood when she was appointed, because she was not a Labour Party member.

Mr Salmond said he wanted law officers to establish "independence from the political process".

In the past, ministers have found it beneficial to have a formal legal view available at the Cabinet table but this has created unease, both inside and outside the legal profession.

Mr Salmond said before the election that he wanted to put more distance between the political machinations of government and the legal system and yesterday he carried this through.

The first minister's move emerged after Mr Salmond's Cabinet secretaries were formally sworn in to office at the Court of Session, before the new Cabinet's first meeting yesterday afternoon.

Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, Fiona Hyslop, Kenny MacAskill and Richard Lochhead all took the oath of office in front of senior judges.

Mr Swinney is secretary for finance, Ms Hyslop handles education and lifelong learning, Mr MacAskill has been handed the justice brief and Mr Lochhead oversees rural affairs and the environment.

The first minister, who was sworn in earlier, will make a statement today on his government's priorities.

Let the hard graft begin as SNP embarks on establishing policies

Alex Salmond

First Minister

Becoming a credible party of government. Mr Salmond wants, above all else, to establish the SNP as credible and trusted guardians of Scotland's government. This will be very difficult as a minority administration, but the SNP's future success, and its pursuit of victory in an independence referendum, depend on him achieving this aim.

• Furthering the cause of independence. Mr Salmond wants to publish the white paper on an independence referendum, even if the legislation stands no chance of getting the approval of parliament. His idea is to use the SNP in government, and its ability to put the white paper out to consultation, to raise the profile of independence as an issue.

• Raising Scotland's profile. Mr Salmond wants to be seen as a governmental leader, particularly in London, and he will pick fights - where necessary - and demand changes to the way Scotland operates with the rest of the UK (like trying to create a Scottish Olympic team) to raise Scotland's profile at home and abroad.

Nicola Sturgeon

Cabinet secretary for health and wellbeing

Local healthcare: The SNP has promised to keep healthcare as local as possible and Ms Sturgeon has already made clear any closures of local hospitals will have to be approved by her. She has already announced an independent review of the downgrading of Vale of Leven hospital in West Dunbartonshire and can rely on cross-party support to reverse the decision to downgrade Monklands Hospital in Lanarkshire. Other measures to make healthcare more local include elected health boards.

• Extending free school meals: This is another policy which minority government will be able to push through as it is supported by other parties. The SNP have also pledged to increase provision of school nurses.

• Prescription charges: Abolishing charges for people with chronic conditions has been backed by much of the medical community.

• Dental care: Ms Sturgeon plans to reintroduce a school-based dental service, working with the dental profession to improve access to the NHS, and she will seek to open a third dental school by expanding the Aberdeen Dental Institute.

Kenny MacAskill

Cabinet secretary for justice

Tackling the root causes of crime. Mr MacAskill is adamant that poverty is no excuse for crime. He is determined that those who offend should be punished. But he believes in a more holistic approach to law and order, seeking out the causes of crime and tackling those - like drugs and alcohol - to bring crime levels down in the long term. His first move was to bring alcohol licensing into his justice brief, signalling his determination to look wider than just crime and punishment.

• Mr MacAskill's second main aim will be to stop private companies running prisons. He believes there is scope for private companies to build prisons, but not to run them. This should be the job of the Scottish Prisons Service. This will mean major changes at Kilmarnock Prison and a new approach to the two new prisons planned for Scotland.

• Mr MacAskill also wants to get fine defaulters and other minor criminals out of prison. He has already received a briefing from officials which revealed that 83 per cent of offenders are in prison for six months or less. Mr MacAskill believes many of these should not be in prison, but given proper, testing, community sentences instead.

John Swinney

Cabinet secretary for finance and sustainable growth

Removing business rates from 120,000 small and medium-sized businesses, with a cut in the rate for a further 30,000 companies.

• Freezing council tax for councils across Scotland for two years as the first step towards the eventual aim of introducing a local income tax.

• Abolish tolls on the Forth and Tay bridges and abandon the Edinburgh airport rail link. Begin work on the provision of a new Forth crossing, possibly a tunnel rather than a bridge.

• Reviewing the 27 executive agencies and 152 quangos that run Scotland with early hits by abolishing Communities Scotland and sportscotland, with their functions split between central and local government.

• Publishing the "Howat report" commissioned by the previous Executive which sets out options for radical public sector reform in Scotland.

• Taking the first steps to create a Scottish Futures Trust which will replace PFI funding with the issuing of public sector bonds.

• Mr Swinney may also press ahead with the SNP's manifesto commitment to have early discussions with Westminster about creating a separate Scottish civil service, modelled on the Northern Ireland civil service.

Fiona Hyslop

Cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning

Early intervention. Ms Hyslop believes that concentrating on the early years, from nursery up, will pay off in the long term. She wants more nursery places available and smaller class sizes in primary schools, allowing schools to concentrate on the basics of literacy and numeracy. She believes that, if the basics at the bottom are right, the rest of education will improve as a result, particularly cutting the rates of those not in education, employment or training.

• Lifelong learning: Ms Hyslop believes strongly that, in the 21st century, education has to available for all, at any stage of life. This will mean a major push for lifelong learning, changing attitudes and allowing people to think of their careers, not just a single job for life.

• Universities: Ms Hyslop does not intend to back down on the SNP's promise to bring back grants and scrap tuition fees, but realises this will need cross-party support, so it may have to be delayed for a couple of years. She also wants to invest more in universities and raise their profile.

Richard Lochhead

Cabinet secretary for rural affairs

Agriculture: Plans to reinvigorate the sector could include cutting red tape from Europe, encouraging more young entrants and helping farmers to achieve better prices by introducing an independent ombudsman to regulate the supermarkets.

• Fishing: As one of Scotland's foremost industries, fishing will be given more attention. SNP plans include working to withdraw for the Common Fisheries Policy, increased representation in Europe, a fishing conservation policy and a development plan for the fish processing sector.

• Local produce: The market for organic locally grown produce could be given a boost by using fresh local food in schools and hospitals, encouraging farmers' markets and country of origin labelling signalling organic food from Scotland.