Cabinet changes

Swinney dumps independence minister, McKee returns

Kate Forbes and John Swinney outside Bute House (pic: Terry Murden / DB Media Services)

First Minister John Swinney has dumped the role of independence minister in a shake-up that sees the return of Ivan McKee to government and three junior ministers return to the backbenches.

Mr Swinney, who will deliver First Minister’s Questions for the first time today, left his Cabinet virtually unchanged from the one inherited from Humza Yousaf, with the addition of 34-year-old Kate Forbes as Deputy First Minister in place of Shona Robison. Ms Forbes also takes the economy brief from Mairi McAllan.

Jamie Hepburn, who was handed the controversial role of independence minister by Mr Yousaf, gets a new role as Minister for Parliamentary Business.

The decision to demote independence from the government’s list of portfolios has stirred a backlash from campaigners.

Alba Party General Secretary Chris McEleny said: “The new SNP Government has made the decision to deprioritise independence in order to try broaden support for itself within parliament.

“Instead of appealing to unionists the First Minister should be reaching out to Alba Party’s Holyrood leader Ash Regan MSP to turbo charge efforts to drive forward the case for independence.”

The new Cabinet consists of 11 Cabinet Secretaries, including the First Minister, supported by 14 Ministers. This reduces the size of the Scottish Government by four since the start of the year.

Ivan McKee returns, though not in a business role as some may have expected. He is appointed Minister for Public Finance, while Minister for Parliamentary Business George Adam, Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees Emma Roddick, and Minister for Local Government Empowerment & Planning Joe FitzPatrick have left office.

Mr McKee served as Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise between 2021 and 2023 and was regarded as having the ear of business, being one of the few ministers with extensive experience outside the political bubble.

Ivan McKee at Beal
Ivan McKee: back in government

He has significant international experience having managed businesses in Scotland, England, Poland, Finland, Croatia and Bosnia.

In 2005 he set up his own international manufacturing consultancy business and from 2009 to 2015 invested in, and successfully turned around, a number of manufacturing businesses including the purchase of distressed assets from Dunfermline-based Simclar whilst in administration.

Paul McLennan is re-appointed Housing Minister but contrary to some whispers around Holyrood there was no promotion of the brief to Cabinet level.

Mr Swinney was accused of announcing a “continuity” Cabinet that failed to inject new faces, or exposed a lack of available talent. His supporters will say that retaining portfolios was an indication of his desire to create stability two years from a Scottish general election.

Swinney’s first Cabinet, back row: Fiona Hyslop, Angela Constance, Jenny Gilruth, Shirley-Anne Somerville, Mairi Gougeon; Middle row: Angus Robertson, Mairi McAllan, Shona Robison, Neil Gray; Front row: Kate Forbes, John Swinney (pic: Terry Murden)

Ms Forbes’ appointment, which includes gaelic responsibilities, means an end to her year-long exile from government after being sidelined following her failed leadership contest with Mr Yousaf. She described taking on the role as Deputy First Minister as a ‘moment of extraordinary privilege’.

Dame Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said Mr Swinney had assembled a “continuity cabinet”, adding: “Once again the SNP is putting its own party interest before the country’s interest with this uninspiring reshuffle.”

Craig Hoy, the Scottish Conservative chairman, said: “This is simply Humza Yousaf’s cabinet with a different figurehead.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “We need ministers that won’t make empty promises but will get the basics right. Relying on all the same ingredients is a recipe for disappointment.

“This parade of familiar faces proves that nobody in the SNP ever pays the price despite 1 in 7 Scots being stuck on NHS waiting lists, sewage dumping in our rivers reaching record levels, and islanders waiting forever for ferries.”

First Minister John Swinney 

Minister for Parliamentary Business Jamie Hepburn

Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Gaelic Kate Forbes

Minister for Business Richard Lochhead

Minister for Employment and Investment Tom Arthur

Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government Shona Robison

Minister for Public Finance Ivan McKee 

Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills Jenny Gilruth

Minister for Children, Young People and The Promise Natalie Don   

Minister for Higher and Further Education; and Minister for Veterans Graeme Dey

Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs Angela Constance

Minister for Victims and Community Safety Siobhian Brown  

Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy Màiri McAllan

Minister for Climate Action Gillian Martin

Cabinet Secretary for Transport Fiona Hyslop

Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity Jim Fairlie (reporting jointly to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands)

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care Neil Gray   

Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health Jenni Minto

Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport Maree Todd  

Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy Christina McKelvie

Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice Shirley-Anne Somerville

Minister for Equalities Kaukab Stewart             

Minister for Housing Paul McLennan

Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Angus Robertson

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands Mairi Gougeon

Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity Jim Fairlie (reporting jointly to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport)   

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