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As I See It

FM losing plot as shuffle turns to shambles

New Scottish Cabinet at Bute House

The new Cabinet was meant to signal renewal (pic: Terry Murden)


 

Brian Monteith portraitOnly two years since the last Holyrood elections the Scottish Government is looking accident prone and beleaguered – and only has its own bad judgment to blame.

The First Minister’s reshuffle turned into a highly damaging farce and shredded any credibility Nicola Sturgeon had for competence. She will have to work hard to win it back. 

John Swinney, who was appointed Education Secretary two years ago with a reputation for being “the safest pair of hands in the SNP”, has turned out to be more Frank Haffey than Gigi Buffon. He was forced to abandon his flagship Education Bill in what Labour’s Iain Gray correctly termed as the “mother of all climbdowns” on the FM’s number one priority.

How then should such bad news be communicated? Standard PR practice is to find a bigger event to hide behind, something that takes up all the oxygen, column inches and dominates the internet. The First minister’s only genuine reshuffle since she was elected would provide just such an event.

It began reasonably well. There was good news that the responsibilities of finance and the economy were being merged, but I would rather have seen the battle-hardened former Royal Marine Keith Brown put in charge than Derek Mackay, who on occasion rivals Diane Abbot for getting his sums wrong.

The truth is there is a real dearth of talent from Scottish business serving at Holyrood and it has been particularly noticeable in the SNP since the likes of Jim Mather retired in 2011. 

Humza Yousaf was relieved of the Transport brief after struggling with the ScotRail contract shortcomings and the plague of potholes that gets bigger every year. A narcissistic Tweeter, he was mercilessly and repeatedly ribbed for being the Transport minister with a conviction for driving without insurance – but will now be trolled as the Justice Minister with a criminal record. The reputation of Scots law is now literally in the hands of this minister and his smart phone. 

Meanwhile, Paul Wheelhouse who, with an MBA and years of development planning consultancy knows his economic onions, is now left in charge of energy where he might be able to do something with the proposed new state energy company, but making him number two to Derek Mackay was an opportunity missed.

Ms Sturgeon’s reshuffle made little coherent sense. More ministers in ill-suited roles, more balancing of genders, youthfulness, minorities and geographical representation – but experience of real life skills and hard business-like government? Bad judgement is becoming the hallmark of Sturgeon’s tenure.

As if that wasn’t disappointing enough the week descended into chaos when the appointment of Gillian Martin as junior education minister was withdrawn. A day earlier the First Minister had been taking a selfie with her junior team inside Bute House and Ms Martin tweeted her official ministerial portrait.

But those who live by social media are now dying by social media.

For someone so well versed in tweeting, Nicola Sturgeon should have known about Ms Martin’s comments, as they were made public two years ago, and it is her job to ask hard questions of her appointees.

But if the First Minister is going to live inside a social media bubble her disconnect from public and business reality and detachment from sound decision making will only grow. The double standards of criticising President Trump for crass and divisive tweets when Ms Sturgeon promotes people who behave regularly in the same manner doesn’t even register. 

The loss to us all is reliable good judgement about policies and people – and Scottish businesses will ultimately pay.

The next Holyrood election really cannot come quick enough. 

Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish Parliament  



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