Ministers and Junior Ministers

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:48 am on 21st May 2003.

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Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 9:48 am, 21st May 2003

New members of the Parliament would be forgiven for thinking that the appointment of ministers is a special occasion. However, I assure them that the event comes round with monotonous regularity. I will move the Conservative amendment, which would delete the name of Nicol Stephen from the motion. I stress that I will do so not on personal grounds, but simply because of what his appointment symbolises.

In his speech last week, the First Minister said:

"For this second session, there must be no business as usual or simply more of the same."—[Official Report, 15 May 2003; c 25.]

Sadly, the new ministerial team shows that that is exactly what we are going to get. In many respects, things are getting even worse. The separation of transport from the enterprise brief to accommodate Nicol Stephen is simply another make-work job creation scheme—it is not a new deal, but a poor deal.

No doubt, the First Minister will claim that he has reduced the size of government in Scotland, but his meagre reduction in the overall tally is mere tokenism. It cannot hide the fact that there will now be 11 people jostling around the Cabinet table, whereas in the locust year of 1999 we had only 10. That means that there will be 11 ministers, all eager to prove that they can run our lives better than we can run our own, by introducing more legislation, more regulation and more dictation, exemplified by the 40 bills that we are led to expect over the next four years.

That flawed approach will prove no more successful in this second session of Parliament than it did in the first. This is a huge opportunity missed. Mr McConnell sent out signals throughout the election campaign that he accepted the need for slimming down government. However, the McConnell diet involves simply more main course, but less of the trimmings. The end result is much the same and is just as unpalatable to the electorate—but then, that is what we have come to expect from Mr McConnell: all talk and no action.

And so the public will continue to see the politicians in the Scottish Government putting their interests before those of the Scottish people. Make no mistake—the failure to reduce significantly the size of government is all about retaining discipline within the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups by offering the prospect of sharing in the trappings of power. Many have done so before and to the dispossessed and the disappointed, Mr Tom McCabe is proof that there is life after political death. I assure the happy band of brothers and sisters who have yet to experience the delights of office that their time will indeed come, as long as they keep voting the right way.

It would be churlish not to congratulate the three individuals—Peter Peacock, Frank McAveety and Nicol Stephen—who have now reached the giddy heights of Cabinet rank. Mr McAveety is a welcome addition to the fold after his earlier meteoric rise was brought to an abrupt halt when he backed the wrong horse in the 2.30 instead of waiting for the 3 o'clock. As the MSP for Celtic Park, he will no doubt shortly be renaming VisitScotland "Visit Shettleston".

While congratulating those climbing the greasy pole today, we should spare a thought for those who have been less fortunate. Some may have contributed to their own downfall, but just what did poor Des do? Appointed only on 28 November, he finds that he is now the make-weight in an exchange deal that sees Tavish Scott parachuted back into the Government. Of course Mr Scott is a talented man—and if members do not believe me, just ask him. Apparently he is to be the Liberal Democrat business manager and chief whip—a role that he fulfilled in the past with a conspicuous lack of success. Indeed Mr Scott has previous on that and, uniquely, is a gamekeeper turned poacher turned gamekeeper again.

The First Minister has wasted an early chance to make a bold statement of intent with these appointments. We all know, from weeks of campaigning, that the Parliament's tarnished reputation is in need of rebuilding, but a glaring opportunity to make a fresh and positive start is being squandered. That is why the Scottish Conservatives will continue to press in the Parliament for a genuine programme to reduce the excessive size and cost of government in Scotland. We have been calling for that for four years. Mr Swinney and the Scottish National Party finally woke up to the need for it about eight weeks ago. Converts to Conservative policies are always welcome and there are plenty more where that one came from.

Mr McConnell should reflect on the fact that his Administration was reluctantly given a second chance by the Scottish people on 1 May. If they see no change, they will not give him a third.

I move amendment S2M-52.2, to leave out "and Nicol Stephen."