The Scottish Labour front bench at Holyrood has undergone a major reshuffle that has resulted in three senior MSPs being demoted.
MSPs Hugh Henry, Ken Macintosh and Richard Baker have all been removed from their shadow roles on a day that saw Johann Lamont give her shadow cabinet a complete overhaul.
Mr Henry’s portfolio as Scottish Labour’s education and lifelong learning spokesman is now the responsibility of first-term Lothian list MSP Kezia Dugdale.
North East list MSP Richard Baker has been replaced as shadow secretary for infrastructure and capital investment by Rutherglen MSP James Kelly, who sees his former role as chief whip of the group going to another North East MSP Lewis McDonald.
However, in a surprise move Ms Lamont’s finance spokesman Ken Macintosh sees his former post go to Ms Lamont’s predecessor, Iain Gray. The return to the front bench of the former Scottish Labour leader is sure to be the story of the day.
In another shock move, Scottish Labour’s Health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie has been replaced by another first time MSP Neil Findlay. Ms Baillie will now turn her attention to social justice, equalities and welfare.
On a day that first time MSPs dominated the reshuffle, Graeme Pearson becomes Labour’s justice spokesman while Drew Smith has been given responsibility for the constitution.
The surprise reshuffle follows a lacklustre performance in the Aberdeen Donside by-election that saw the SNP win comfortably despite losing a sizeable part of their 2011 majority. Under Ms Lamont the party performed well in the 2012 local elections but has appeared to run out of steam recently.
The switch from Health to social justice, equalities and welfare for Jackie Baillie is a sign that Ms Lamont retains faith in one of the more experienced members of Labour’s Holyrood group. Ms Baillie made little impact on former Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon or her replacement Alex Neil.
However with planned cuts to welfare by Labour and the Conservatives expected to feature prominently in the independence debate, Ms Baillie will be tasked with diverting the SNP attacks on the Westminster parties and back onto Alex Salmond’s administration.
Commenting, Johann Lamont said: “We have made a great deal of progress in the last 18 months but we have to keep moving forward.
“I believe this refreshed shadow cabinet team is the right blend of youth and experience which can take forward the job of modernising the Scottish Labour Party, holding the Scottish Government to account and building a new relationship with the people of Scotland and policies which meet their needs.”
The Scottish Labour leader added: “I would like to thank those members of the frontbench team who are moving on for their dedication, and am certain they will make a contribution to getting Scottish Labour back into government.”
A disappointed Ken Macintosh said: “I am naturally disappointed to not have the opportunity to finish the work my team and I have been doing, but I am delighted that Iain Gray is returning to front-line Scottish politics.
“When Johann and I stood against one another for the leadership we both committed to building a united Labour team and I will continue to give her and the new shadow cabinet my full support, as I have done every minute of the past year.”
However in a cryptic comment, the Scottish Labour MSP added: “Whatever disagreements we may have on the direction the party is headed I still have huge admiration for Johann and particularly welcome her new cabinet appointments.”
Commenting on the news of Labour’s shadow cabinet reshuffle, SNP Business Convener Derek Mackay said:
“The SNP extend our congratulations to the new members of Labour’s front bench and our commiserations to those senior figures who have been dumped or walked away because of their political differences.
“But the reason Johann Lamont had to have this reshuffle – which has exposed the deep splits and disagreements in their ranks – is their failure to present any serious challenge to the SNP in last week’s Donside by-election, the fact that the SNP’s lead over Labour in the polls is even greater now than in our landslide Scottish Parliament victory two years ago and the disastrous decision of Labour to follow the Tories with their cuts agenda and their cuts commission.
“The most recent poll has SNP support at 45% – just as high as in the election – while Labour are two points lower than in their 2011 meltdown.”
Scottish Labour’s new team looks like this:
- Leader of the Scottish Labour Party – Johann Lamont
- Deputy Leader – Anas Sarwar
- Finance – Iain Gray
- Education – Kezia Dugdale
- Health – Neil Findlay
- Justice – Graeme Pearson
- Infrastructure and Capital Investment- James Kelly
- Constitution – Drew Smith
- Social justice, equalities and welfare – Jackie Baillie
- Youth employment and Deputy Finance – Jenny Marra
- Local Government – Sarah Boyack
- Culture – Patricia Ferguson
- Rural Affairs and Environment – Claire Baker
- Business Manager – Paul Martin
- Chief Whip – Lewis Macdonald
Richard Baker is to take on a wider policy review role while Jackie Baillie will be manifesto co-ordinator
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