Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:29 pm on 28th November 2001.

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Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 12:29 pm, 28th November 2001

My speech will be a welcome relief for the Parliament and a welcome change from the SNP's turgid efforts. The SNP is getting much-needed practice in the art of being in opposition. For the past month, they have been outdistanced by a country mile. I have to reflect that never, in the field of political conflict, have so many owed so much to so few.

It is my pleasure to move amendment S1M-2488.1, which objects to the appointment of Andy Kerr as Minister for Finance and Public Services. I have nothing personal against Mr Kerr; it is just that his appointment exemplifies the fact that we have not so much a ministry of all the talents as a ministry of all the toadies.

From Mr Kerr's activities over the past few weeks, it has been pretty clear that there are few things that he will not do for his political master. It is apparent that he is willing to act as Mr McConnell's political shield and, if necessary, to lay down his ministerial life for his new boss. Jack the knife has clearly decided that he needs the services of a bodyguard—small wonder, as his back benches are populated with the disappeared, the dispossessed and the disgruntled.

More important, from the standpoint of our country, Mr Kerr's appointment is a sure sign that there will be a continuation of one of the worst characteristics of the Executive—its inability and unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions. Despite all his brave words, the First Minister does not want to be in the firing line when the Scottish Executive fails to deliver on our public services. He has created a completely unnecessary gimmick of a position to provide himself with a convenient scapegoat—Mr Kerr is to be the carry-the-can minister. Mr McConnell has clearly learned much from the Prime Minister about the arts of self-preservation and meaningless gesture politics.

The First Minister's defence is that the new post shows how seriously he takes our public services and proves that he means to deliver on them. Pull the other one. It is the First Minister's responsibility to lead and oversee the performance of his ministerial team. If the First Minister is not happy with the way in which his Minister for Education and Young People, his Minister for Health and Community Care or—perhaps more pertinent—his Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning do their job, he can sack them. As he does not seem to be particularly averse to doing that, he does not need an Andy Kerr to do his job for him. The appointment is hardly conducive to good relations around the Cabinet table.

Mr Kerr's appointment also tells us a lot about the nature of the new Administration. The man who is meant to oversee the much-needed reform of our public services is the same man who led the resistance to Sarah Boyack when she took the brave decision to award the road maintenance contracts to the private sector, saving the taxpayer £190 million over a five-year period. That decision was fully vindicated by the recent Audit Scotland report. Mr Kerr's approach certainly does not bode well for his role as Minister for Finance and Public Services or for the prudent management of our nation's finances. With tartan-tax-raising Lord Mike Watson at his side, the taxpayers of Scotland should certainly look out.

The idea that the troika of Andy Kerr, Cathy Jamieson and Malcolm Chisholm will overhaul our public services is simply laughable. They have built their careers on defending the interests of the public sector trade unions. They will continue to adhere to their outdated dogma and to put the interests of providers above the interests of the public.

The Scottish Conservatives have argued consistently from day one of the Parliament that the bloated Administration needs to be cut down to size, as the number of ministers is already four times the number that ran the Scottish Office under the most recent Conservative Government and its Labour successor. Instead of using his first reshuffle to cut the Cabinet down to size, however, Mr McConnell has used it as an opportunity to settle a few old scores with his political adversaries. He has sacked half his Cabinet—arguably the wrong half. That says all that we need to know about his priorities. He is more concerned with conducting petty feuds and settling scores than with delivering leaner, fitter and better government for Scotland.

Unlike the Mafia dons, Mr McConnell will find that he cannot just get rid of his enemies. They do not sleep with the fishes. They are on his back benches and he may come to rue the day that he put them there. I doubt that the code of omertà will last for long.

At least Mr McConnell has succeeded in proving Henry McLeish wrong. There are two parties in the coalition. It is unfortunate for Mr McConnell that they are both Labour.

I move amendment S1M-2488.1, to leave out "Andy Kerr".