Humza Yousaf told his new Health Secretary he is taking on “one of the toughest jobs in government” after Michael Matheson quit the post following months of pressure over his £11,000 iPad bill.
Mr Matheson resigned as Scottish health secretary on Thursday, as the Holyrood body investigating the charges told him it would soon be handing over its draft report.
The First Minister said afterwards that Mr Matheson had “done the right thing by standing down”.
But Mr Yousaf insisted the reshuffle that the resignation prompted had resulted in a “strong team” that is “very much focused on the delivery of the priorities of the people of Scotland”.
Despite speculation, there was no return to the Scottish cabinet for former finance secretary Kate Forbes, who last year narrowly lost out to Mr Yousaf in the contest to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as first minister.
The reshuffle however saw the first ever woman of colour appointed in the Scottish Government, with Kaukab Stewart becoming the new international development minister.
Mr Gray, a key ally of Mr Yousaf’s, takes on the health post after serving as wellbeing economy, fair work and energy secretary.
And Mr Yousaf – who was himself health secretary before taking over as Scotland’s First Minister last year – said: “Neil Gray stepping into what I think is one of the toughest jobs in government.”
But he added: “Anybody who knows Neil knows that he thrives on a challenge. He’s got energy. He’s dynamic.
“I’ve told him, as he knows already, it’s a tough job. I say that from very personal experience.
“But he is immensely capable and he is going to thrive in that job and I have got every confidence not just in him but in every single cabinet secretary and minister to deliver.”
Mairi McAllan, meanwhile, gets a beefed up role, becoming the new Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy.
And Mr Yousaf said the combining of the economy, net zero and energy portfolios sent a “very powerful signal that Scotland’s economic growth is going to be powered by the transition to net zero”.
Transport has become a standalone portfolio in the Scottish cabinet with Fiona Hyslop – who was transport minister but had previoulsy served in the economy, culture and education secretary roles – appointed to the job.
Jim Fairlie also joins the Scottish Government, becoming minister for agriculture and connectivity.
He has been given the job because he is “exceptionally capable” and “really well liked” by the agricultural sector, Mr Yousaf said, citing the MSP’s “immense experience in relation to farming and agriculture”.
Meanwhile, Christina McKelvie has been switched to the key role of drugs and alcohol policy minister after Elena Whitham stepped down from that post earlier in the week for health reasons.
Speaking about his revamped government line-up, the First Minister said: “We’ve got a really strong team that is going to help us deliver the priorities for Scotland.”
He revealed he had already been considering his options should Mr Matheson step down as it was expected that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) would complete its report into his iPad data charges at about this time.
“This is something I have given some consideration to, if Michael came to the conclusion, as he has done, to step down from government,” the First Minister told journalists.
The SPCB agreed its draft report on Wednesday, with Mr Matheson informed on Thursday that he would be issued with a copy “shortly”.
A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “The parliamentary investigation process is ongoing.
“The SPCB remains committed to openness and transparency and will release all material it can, when it can, in line with its legal obligations.”
Opponents had repeatedly called for Mr Matheson to resign after details of his iPad bill first emerged in November last year.
The then health secretary initially insisted to journalists that there had been no personal use of the device, but later went on to make an emotional statement to MSPs in which he revealed his sons had used it as a hotspot so they could watch football while on a family holiday in Morocco.
The Scottish Parliament had initially covered the charges, with Mr Matheson later reimbursing the cash.