Nicola Sturgeon announces new Cabinet as Humza Yousaf gets health and Shirley-Anne Somerville moves to education

Nicola Sturgeon has described her reshuffled Cabinet as one that would “drive Scotland forward” through its recovery from Covid as the key roles in health and education were given to Humza Yousaf and Shirley-Anne Somerville respectively.

Announcing her appointments to a refreshed Cabinet, the First Minister said her new top team “combines experience with new arrivals”.

Mr Yousaf, who was justice secretary, has taken on the role vacated by Jeane Freeman as Cabinet secretary for health and social care in a position that will include a leading role around the creation of a national care service.

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The other major portfolio, education, was vacated on Tuesday by deputy first minister John Swinney as part of his move to a new role covering Covid-19 recovery.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon(c) alongside her newly formed Cabinet l-r Shona Robison, Michael Matheson, Kate Forbes, John Swinney, Humza Yousaf, Mairi Gougeon , Keith Brown and Angus Robertson on the steps of Bute House in Edinburgh.

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Scottish Cabinet Reshuffle: Shirley-Anne Somerville replaces John Swinney at edu...

Amid rising concerns around this year’s exams in schools, Mr Swinney’s former portfolio is now the responsibility of Shirley-Anne Somerville, the former Cabinet secretary for social security.

Kate Forbes, the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, will stay in her role as finance secretary and will take on an expanded brief, including the wider economy, trade. and enterprise.

Former Westminster leader of the SNP, Angus Robertson, has been appointed Cabinet secretary for the constitution, external affairs and culture.

Humza Yousaf has been appointed as cabinet secretary for health as part of Nicola Sturgeon's reshuffle.

His role will cover everything from a second independence referendum, working with Europe and post-Brexit relations.

It will also take on the culture aspect of the role previously held by the departing economy, fair work and culture minister, Fiona Hyslop.

Keith Brown, the SNP’s deputy leader and former Cabinet secretary for economy, jobs and fair work, will take over the justice role vacated by Mr Yousaf.

Announcing her Cabinet, Ms Sturgeon said it was a government which will “drive Scotland forward” through its recovery from Covid-19.

Shirley-Anne Somerville has been given the education portfolio. Picture: John Devlin

She said: “Scotland needs a serious government for the serious times we face as a nation, and in the top level ministerial line-up I have announced today we have exactly that.

“I’m delighted to announce the Scottish Government’s new Cabinet team. It is a government which will drive Scotland forward, as we look to build a just, fair and sustainable recovery from the Covid pandemic.

“My Cabinet team combines experience with new arrivals and fresh faces, giving us the range and depth of talent we need to tackle the pressing issues we need to tackle, from Covid to climate change.”

Among the fresh faces is Mairi Gougeon, previously a junior minister for public health and sport, who has been handed the portfolio for rural affairs and the islands.

This will cover agriculture, food and drink, fisheries, and “cross-government co-ordination” of policies impacting island communities.

Shona Robison, a former cabinet secretary for health, also returns to the Cabinet as secretary for social justice, housing and local government.

Her role will focus on reducing child poverty and working towards a target of delivering 100,000 affordable homes.

Michael Matheson, who previously held the transport portfolio, will take on an expanded portfolio to include ‘net-zero’ policy, energy and transport alongside responsibility for the delivery of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

The First Minister said the challenge ahead for the government was “clear”.

She said: “This term of office is unquestionably the most important one the nation has faced since devolution, more than 20 years ago.

"We are dealing with the joint challenges of a global pandemic and recovery from it, the ongoing tests posed by Brexit and the urgent, pressing need to take forward our net-zero agenda as part of the global efforts to secure a greener future.

“The magnitude of these challenges is clear, but now is not a moment to shirk from those tasks, but to embrace them.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “The immediate challenge is the focus on recovery and the part that all policy portfolios can play in that. But, as I have made clear, when the crisis is over and the time is right, Scotland must and will have the chance to choose its future in line with the unquestionable democratic mandate for that choice.”

Responding to the announcement of Nicola Sturgeon’s new top team, Anas Sarwar said his party would hold the SNP to their promise to “focus on our recovery”.

The leader of Scottish Labour said: “This parliamentary term will be the most defining period for our nation since devolution and more than ever we need a government focused on recovery.

“Not only will the new government have to lead Scotland out of a pandemic, they will have to take action to rectify the several failings of the previous government, including the drugs death crisis and the looming exams debacle.”

Stephen Kerr, chief whip for the Scottish Conservatives, described the newly-appointed cabinet as a group of the “same tired old faces”.

He said: “The best that Nicola Sturgeon can muster is the same tired faces that have already failed Scotland’s schools, hospitals and justice system.

“The Scottish Conservatives are building a real alternative to this uninspired, run-down SNP Government that already looks out of ideas for taking Scotland forward.”

Scottish Green co-leader Lorna Slater welcomed the appointment of Mr Matheson to a new ‘net-zero’ portfolio, adding that it was time for “true cross-party engagement” on major issues.

She said: “Michael Matheson must now quickly demonstrate how the government intends to change direction on transport policies, which have previously been one of the key reasons that climate targets have been missed.

“But to build a green recovery that leaves no-one behind and tackles the climate crisis, we will need all of government to pull in the same direction.”

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, accused Ms Sturgeon of appointing a “recycled” Cabinet.

He added his party would oppose the appointment of a Cabinet secretary for constitution but welcomed Mr Swinney’s new role as minister for Covid Recovery.

Mr Rennie said: “This must be a Parliament of recovery, as that was the clear message from the voters at the election.”

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