Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:12 pm on 28th November 2001.

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Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party 12:12 pm, 28th November 2001

The Government that Jack McConnell assembled yesterday has been almost universally described as a Cabinet of cronies. That said, at first glance I admit that it is not immediately obvious whether Malcolm Chisholm is a real crony. Attempting to stop Jack McConnell becoming First Minister is not the behaviour that is normally expected from one of your best buddies. It can also be said that Malcolm and Jack are hardly political soul mates. As we all know, Jack McConnell is an enthusiastic supporter of the private finance initiative, whereas when the Parliament debated PFI Malcolm Chisholm said:

"it is well known that I have serious reservations about PFI." —[Official Report, 24 June 1999; Vol 1, c 754.]

If Malcolm Chisholm is not a crony, what is the explanation for his elevation? It cannot be a reward for a job well done as Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care. In the year since Malcolm Chisholm has held that post, the national health service in Scotland has lurched from one crisis to another. In the past quarter alone, waiting lists have gone up by 1,500. In the year since Malcolm Chisholm became Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care, out-patient waiting times have gone up by an average of five days, in-patient waiting times have gone up by an average of three days and cancer services in the west of Scotland have hit crisis point, with staff leaving and services under threat of withdrawal.

A survey that was published earlier this week revealed that 29 per cent—almost one third—of our nurses feel burned out and that we have the unhappiest nursing profession in the whole wide world. That is hardly a glowing reference for the top job—more the kind of record that should have seen Malcolm Chisholm follow Susan Deacon out of the door and not promoted to the post of Minister for Health and Community Care.

That brings us back neatly to the crony Cabinet. The big question is, "What did Malcolm Chisholm do for Jack?" The one thing that unites all the ministers in Jack's Cabinet is that at some point they have all done a favour for Jack. What was the favour that Malcolm Chisholm did for Jack McConnell? [Interruption.] This may be uncomfortable, but it is true. Was it that he agreed to stand for leader when Jack wanted a third candidate to stop Wendy Alexander becoming leader of the Labour party and that he agreed to stand aside because Jack wanted the way cleared for an unopposed election?

In the murky world of Labour politics that is exactly the kind of behaviour that seems to attract reward. Malcolm Chisholm may be the kind of pliable ally who will suit Jack McConnell over the next few months, but on his record of the past year he is not the kind of minister whom we should be promoting to steer the NHS to the vital improvements that are needed for patients in Scotland.