By a Newsnet reporter
In the most significant cabinet reshuffle since the SNP took office, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon being given a key role in charge of the Scottish Government’s independence referendum campaign.
The longest serving Health Minister since the Scottish Parliament was re-established, the Deputy First Minister has given up her post as Health Minister and in addition to her role in the referendum campaign, will now take over from Alex Neil MSP as cabinet secretary for infrastructure and capital spending.
Mr Neil, MSP for Central Scotland, will swap roles with Ms Sturgeon, taking over as Health Minister. Ms Sturgeon will also take lead responsibility for Government Strategy and the Constitution, including preparations for the independence referendum.
Speaking after the reshuffle was announced on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs at Holyrood that she was “extremely excited” by the new role, saying:
“I look forward to making that positive, that honest, that upbeat case over the next two years, and I look forward to winning the independence referendum in 2014.”
In her first duties in her new post, Ms Sturgeon will meet today (Thursday) with Scotland Office minister, Scotland’s sole Conservative MP David Mundell, to discuss plans for staging the independence referendum.
Changes to lower ranking cabinet posts were also announced, due to the decision of a number of MSPs to retire from front-line politics. Veteran MSP Bruce Crawford is to retire from his role as Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business and Government Strategy in which position he played a key role in talks over the staging of the independence referendum.
Stewart Stevenson MSP, minister for environment and climate change is also retiring from Government. He will be replaced by Paul Wheelhouse, MSP for South Scotland.
Glasgow MSP Humza Yousaf, hailed as one of the SNP’s brightest media performers, has become the first Scottish Asian cabinet minister. Mr Yousaf has been given responsibility for external affairs and international development.
In other changes, Brian Adam is replaced as minister for parliamentary business by Joe Fitzpatrick, MSP for Dundee City West, while Margaret Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South, is a new minister for housing and welfare.
Speaking about the changes, First Minister Alex Salmond said:
“This strong Ministerial team will take this Government forward in meeting the economic and social challenges we face while creating a better Scotland for future generations.
“As Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon has demonstrated what can be achieved when Scotland has responsibility for its own affairs. She has delivered record low waiting times and protected the NHS from the creeping privatisation of the UK Government. As Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, she will have a lead role in our programme for economic recovery. With responsibility for Government strategy and the constitution, she will also lead in making the positive case for Scotland’s future.
“Alex Neil has delivered the biggest infrastructure investment programme in Scotland’s history against a backdrop of budget cuts from Westminster. In taking forward Nicola Sturgeon’s substantial achievements as Health Secretary, he will ensure that Scotland’s health service continues to have the strongest possible leadership.
“In 2014, the people of Scotland will have the chance to seize the biggest opportunity in 300 years and ensure that Scotland’s future is in Scotland’s hands.
“Over the next two years, this Government will set out the positive case for independence and present the real choice facing Scotland’s electorate between decisions about Scotland being taken by the people of Scotland or continued control from Westminster.”
Mr Salmond added:
“Margaret Burgess, Humza Yousaf, Joe Fitzpatrick and Paul Wheelhouse bring their own unique talents to this already strong Government and I look forward to working with them.”