McConnell gambles on new Cabinet

29 Nov 01
Jack McConnell's ruthless Cabinet reshuffle is a political gamble which could rebound on Scotland's new first minister if his inexperienced appointees fail to deliver, according to a leading political observer.

30 November 2001

McConnell's 'morning of the long knives' on November 27 saw four senior ministers sacked and another deciding to return to the backbenches after refusing demotion.

By culling five cornerstone ministers from the previous administration of Henry McLeish, McConnell has put key posts in untried hands while simultaneously creating a cabal of potentially disaffected colleagues, according to John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University.

Curtice told Public Finance: 'McConnell has made a lot of enemies. If the Executive runs into problems, particularly if they involve the "Friends of Jack", then there will be plenty of people around to say "I told you so".

'But the real risk is whether the new people will prove effective in time for the Parliamentary elections of 2003. There is a threat to the reputation of the devolution project when people are put into the Cabinet and sacked 12 months later. People are left asking: "Can't anybody here do their jobs?"'

The new Cabinet, which McConnell described as 'the right people at the right time for Scotland', has seen the abrupt departure of Finance Minister Angus MacKay, Social Justice Minister Jackie Baillie and Sarah Boyack from transport. They were all supporters of Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister Wendy Alexander's stillborn leadership bid. Alexander kept her post but has been given the extra responsibility of the treacherous transport brief.

Patricia Ferguson replaced Tom McCabe as Parliament minister and Malcolm Chisholm takes over the health portfolio from his erstwhile boss Susan Deacon, who angrily declined McConnell's offer of the social justice brief and preferred to leave the Executive.

McConnell's campaign manager, Andy Kerr, is the new finance and public services minister, Cathy Jamieson is in charge of education and Lord Mike Watson has been given the new tourism, culture and sport portfolio.

Curtice said: 'McConnell clearly wanted to have around the Cabinet table the people he regards as his soulmates rather than those of his predecessor.

'The degree to which he has changed the Cabinet is striking. The Friends of Jack are more to the Left but have no links to Gordon Brown.

'McConnell has achieved the kind of change it took Margaret Thatcher a couple of years to make and Blair is only getting now, with the introduction of the likes of Estelle Morris.'


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