NICOLA Sturgeon has unveiled Scotland’s first Cabinet to have an equal number of men and women, affirming her pledge to work towards gender equality.
The new First Minister will be joined by four other woman at the top of government after a reshuffle that saw the departures of Cabinet ministers Michael Russell and Kenny MacAskill.
Underlining her commitment to equal representation for women, Ms Sturgeon replaced Mr Russell at education with Angela Constance.
Shona Robison was given the health portfolio, taking over from Alex Neil, who has moved sideways to be Cabinet secretary for social justice, communities and pensioners’ rights.
Roseanna Cunningham was promoted to the Cabinet to become secretary for fair work, skills and training, giving her responsibility for women’s employment and implementing the living wage.
Fiona Hyslop retained her position as culture secretary, taking the total number of women in the ten-strong Cabinet to five, including Ms Sturgeon.
Ms Sturgeon said achieving a 50/50 ratio of women to men showed that her commitment to “redressing the gender balance in public life starts right here in government”.
Scotland joins Sweden and Finland as the third EU country to have an equal gender split in the top political jobs. By contrast, women have only five out of 22 posts in the UK Cabinet. Alex Salmond’s Cabinet had a 40:60 female-to-male ratio.
John Swinney was handed Ms Sturgeon’s old job of Deputy First Minister, and responsibility for the constitution, previously part of her remit, was added to his finance brief.
Michael Matheson was given the challenging task of taking over from Mr MacAskill, who had previously resisted numerous calls to quit. Ms Sturgeon said he and the other high-profile casualty, Mr Russell, had “intimated” to her that they wanted to go.
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Another to profit from the reshuffle was Keith Brown, who rose from transport minister to Cabinet secretary for infrastructure, investment and cities.
Richard Lochhead remained Cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and the environment.
The First Minister confirmed Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland and Solicitor General Lesley Thompson would continue to serve in the Cabinet as Scotland’s most senior law officers.
Ms Sturgeon described the new Cabinet as a “team of all the talents” that would work to create a nation that was “social democratic and socially just”.
At a press conference at Bute House, she said: “Every member of the Cabinet is here on merit on the basis of the excellent work they have already done as ministers.
“The Cabinet line-up is also a clear demonstration that this government will work hard in all areas to promote women, to create gender equality, and it sends out a strong message that we will start the business of redressing the gender balance in public life right here in government.”
When asked about the departures of Mr Russell and Mr Mac-Askill, she said: “Both of them felt they’d made a big contribution, that the time was right for them to demit ministerial office.”
From his decision to release the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to the routine appearance of armed police on the streets, Mr MacAskill’s reign at the justice department had been mired in controversy.
When pressed on whether his departure was an acknowledgement that the government had got things wrong on justice, Ms Sturgeon said: “I pay tribute to Kenny MacAskill. Kenny Mac-Askill is the justice secretary who has ensured that there are 1,000 more police officers on the streets of our country and has presided over a fall in crime that has led to the position where crime is now at a 40-year low.
“He has significant achievements to his name and he should be very proud of that.”
There was also a strong female presence in the junior ministerial posts, which included five new faces from the SNP’s back-benches.
Annabelle Ewing was given the role of minister for youth and women’s employment, while Maureen Watt is the new public health minister. Aileen McLeod has been made minister for environment, climate change and land reform. Jamie Hepburn has been appointed minister for sport and health improvement, and Marco Biagi is the new minister for local government and community empowerment.
When it came to those who were already in government, Derek Mackay moved from local government to transport and islands minister. Humza Yousaf was given an amended title as minister for Europe and international development, while Paul Wheelhouse moved from environment to minister for community safety and legal affairs.
Margaret Burgess remains housing and welfare minister; Fergus Ewing is still minister for business, energy and tourism; and Joe Fitzpatrick is minister for parliamentary business.
Within education, children’s minister Aileen Campbell and learning minister Alasdair Allan continue in their roles. Ms Campbell’s maternity leave will be covered by Fiona McLeod.
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: “I congratulate the new Cabinet secretaries on their appointments and welcome them to their posts. I also welcome the fact that there is a balance of 50/50 between women and men in the top posts.
“Having listened to the First Minister’s call for consensus yesterday, I look forward to them supporting Labour’s policies to tackle the many problems that their predecessors have left for them. It’s time to put the referendum result behind us and get on with governing the country for the benefit of the people of Scotland.”
Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw also wished the new incumbents well and said: “As long as they pursue policies which support hardworking people and boost aspiration, they will have the support of the Scottish Conservatives.
“It’s right that those who were ousted from the Cabinet, Kenny MacAskill and Mike Russell, did so as their time was up long before this reshuffle.”
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