Nicola Sturgeon promises ‘serious government’ from reshuffled Scottish Cabinet

Nicola Sturgeon has promised her new Cabinet will provide Scotland with “serious government” as the country looks to recover from coronavirus and tackle the key issue of climate change.

The First Minister unveiled her new slimmed-down Cabinet – with 10 members instead of the previous 12 – on the steps of her official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh.

With new MSP Angus Robertson – a former SNP Westminster leader – coming straight into the Cabinet as Constitution Secretary, Ms Sturgeon also made clear she believes she has an “unquestionable” mandate for a second independence referendum.

The reshuffle began with the announcement that Deputy First Minister John Swinney was being moved from education – where his performance has come under fire – to the new role of Covid Recovery Secretary.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, who had previously held the social security brief, has now been made Education Secretary – although her appointment had to be made via a Zoom call after it emerged a member of her family is self-isolating.

Humza Yousaf moves from justice to become the Health and Social Care Secretary – which will see him play a key role in tackling coronavirus and take on responsibility for work to set up a new National Care Service.

With climate change taking centre stage as Glasgow prepares to host the global Cop26 summit, Ms Sturgeon has appointed Michael Matheson into the new post of Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport.

Elsewhere, Mairi Gougeon, who served as rural affairs minister before becoming public health minister, has been promoted to become Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, while Kate Forbes remains at finance with an expanded brief to include the economy.

But with former health secretary Shona Robison and one-time economy secretary Keith Brown both making Cabinet comebacks – as the Social Justice, Housing and Local Government Secretary and Justice Secretary respectively – opposition politicians hit out at Ms Sturgeon’s “recycled” front-bench team.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the steps of Bute House in Edinburgh alongside her newly formed Cabinet (Andrew Milligan/PA)
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the steps of Bute House in Edinburgh alongside her newly formed Cabinet (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Scottish Conservative chief whip Stephen Kerr said: “The best that Nicola Sturgeon can muster is the same tired faces that have already failed Scotland’s schools, hospitals and justice system.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The new Cabinet has not been refreshed; it’s been recycled. There are more old faces from the past than new ones for the future.”

Mr Rennie welcomed the appointment of a Covid Recovery Secretary, but added: “The appointment of a cabinet secretary for the constitution will distract effort and consume resources that should be used for recovery from the pandemic.

“Now is not the moment to appoint a minister for another referendum. We will oppose this appointment in Parliament on Thursday.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar added: “The national recovery must be this Parliament’s collective national mission, not the arguments of the past.

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“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.”

But Ms Sturgeon said she was “delighted” to unveil her new Cabinet.

“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, ” she said.

“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.

Angus Robertson has been made Constitution Secretary just a fortnight after he was elected to Holyrood (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)
Angus Robertson has been made Constitution Secretary just a fortnight after he was elected to Holyrood (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

“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.

“In the next five years, we have a chance to shape Scotland permanently for the better, creating a healthier, happier, fairer, more prosperous and more sustainable country for everyone who calls Scotland home, establishing a positive legacy for future generations.

“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.”