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Nicola, nationalism and a lack of enterprise at the top table

Nicola SturgeonThey turned up in their thousands, a moment either to savour as an expression of political will and identity, or to fear as an over-exuberant display of dangerous nationalism.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s address to the faithful at the Glasgow Hydro drew 12,000 and caused traffic jams more typical at football matches and pop concerts.

The fervour behind the new leader has reached fever pitch and even Ms Sturgeon must be wondering if there isn’t hint of the Diana death syndrome in the level of obsessiveness over her appointment.

So let’s take stock here. It is one thing to support the idea that Scotland, unchained from Westminster, will have the freedom and ability to achieve its maximum potential. But it is quite another to see it as a means for beating anyone who opposes The Plan.

It is important to note that Ms Sturgeon bleeds when she is pricked. She is not infallible or without fault.

Her new Cabinet appointments have been hailed for their positives, but there is an over-emphasis on the social agenda.

There is a sop towards business, but no manifesto for it, nor for wealth creation. The drive for equality can only mean either more debt or punitive taxes on those who clearly ought to be penalised for being successful.

There are more women in the Cabinet (tick the gender equality box);  it is a “team of all the talents” (tick boxes marked cliche and we’ve heard it before); and there was a thank you in the FM’s statement for outgoing Cabinet Secretaries Kenny MacAskill and Mike Russell “for their sterling work in government” (tick box marked hypocrisy).

Ms Sturgeon and her colleagues have spoken for years of putting the economy at the top of their priorities. So why does this Cabinet have no dedicated enterprise or business secretary as there is in the Westminster government?

Sure, John Swinney has the brief for the Scottish economy, enterprise, trade and inward investment, energy and renewable energy, innovation, tourism, business regulation, accountancy and insolvency.

But just look at what else he has to handle… government strategy, reform, delivery and outcomes across portfolios, cross government implementation of Scotland’s digital future and relations with other UK administrations.

And...fiscal policy, the Scottish Budget, public spending, taxation, budgetary monitoring and reporting, public service reform, public bodies policy, efficient government, public sector pay and pensions.

And…liaising with the parliamentary bureau and MSPs of the government party, open government, including Freedom of Information.

And, of course, he is Deputy First Minister.

So, what a relief that Fergus Ewing, as business, energy and tourism minister will be there to shoulder some of the workload. What a pity though that his post is not considered important enough to merit a place at the top table.

This imbalance of priorities has not gone unnoticed among senior figures in the business community. Colin Borland, who heads up the Scottish Federation of Small Businesses, puts it diplomatically by noting that Swinney, while respected, has a “broad brief”.

Swinney’s ability to execute all these roles has to be in doubt. While some, including the Scottish Conservatives, note that the number of Cabinet posts has risen from six in 2007 to 10, it is surely better to have more Cabinet ministers if the end result is better – and better prioritised – government.



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