Swinney swaps finance for education in Scottish reshuffle

18 May 16

John Swinney’s nine-year stewardship of Scotland’s public finances has ended, after first minister Nicola Sturgeon shifted him to the politically sensitive education portfolio in a major reshuffle of her Cabinet this morning.

As previously trailed, Swinney’s finance and economy portfolio is being split, to take account of the Scotland’s new tax and social security powers. Derek Mackay, previously junior transport minister, is promoted to Cabinet to take charge of the finance brief, including the Scottish Budget and fiscal policy, while Keith Brown moves from infrastructure to the new economy role.

Sturgeon, formally sworn in at the Court of Session this morning for her second term as Scotland’s fifth First Minister, has maintained gender balance in her Cabinet, with two new members – Mackay and Fergus Ewing – coming in to replace Richard Lochhead and Alex Neil, who have resigned from the rural affairs/environment and social justice briefs respectively.

Ewing, son of SNP matriarch Winnie Ewing, takes charge of a new rural economy and connectivity brief. Angela Constance moves from education to become communities, social security and equalities secretary, while Roseanna Cunningham moves from equalities to become cabinet secretary for environment, climate change and land reform.

Contrary to some predictions, Shona Robison retains the high-profile health portfolio and Michael Matheson continues at justice. Fiona Hyslop also remains in the culture, tourism and external affairs post. 

Changes in junior ministerial portfolios will be announced later.

Lochhead, who has held the rural affairs post in Cabinet since 2007, has been under fire over delays in distributing EU grant aid to farmers, but his resignation letter spoke instead of a need to rebalance his life. His wife was diagnosed last year with breast cancer, and there was a strong hint in Sturgeon’s response that a future post in government will be open to him should he want to return.

Neil, a former Labour activist and long-time associate of radical nationalist Jim Sillars, wrote to Sturgeon ahead of the reshuffle indicating a wish to “concentrate on my constituency and other work which cannot be easily done whilst serving in the cabinet”. In reply, the first minister praised his “rich enduring legacy of achievements" as a minister.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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