Junior Ministers

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:30 pm on 12th February 2009.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 4:30 pm, 12th February 2009

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3431, in the name of the First Minister, on the appointment of junior Scottish ministers. Members should note that the question on amendment S3M-3431.1, in the name of Murdo Fraser, and the question on the motion, will be put at the conclusion of this debate rather than at decision time. I remind members that one-minute warnings are no longer given.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party 4:31 pm, 12th February 2009

Today, the Government seeks parliamentary approval for changes to the ministerial team. I begin by putting on record my gratitude to Stewart Maxwell, Linda Fabiani and Maureen Watt for their dedication and service as Scottish ministers. [ Applause. ] Each of them has played an important role in delivering a successful start for the first ever Scottish National Party-led Government.

Stewart Maxwell played a pivotal role in bringing the 2014 Commonwealth games to Scotland, building on the commendable efforts of the previous Administration. The games will transform Scottish sport and leave a hugely positive legacy for future generations. Maureen Watt not only advanced the skills agenda in Scotland; she has worked tirelessly with partners the length and breadth of Scotland to prepare for the introduction of the curriculum for excellence. As Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture, Linda Fabiani oversaw a doubling of Scotland's international aid budget, enhanced the status of the Gaelic and Scots languages, and strengthened the arts, not least by helping to bring the superb d'Offay collection to Scotland. Those are records of achievement, and I am sure that the Parliament will wish to show its appreciation for that service to Scotland. [Applause.]

Scotland's Parliament and therefore its Government face greater challenges today than anyone imagined a year ago, never mind when we took office in May 2007. Our shared responsibility is to strengthen the country, to protect jobs and to promote recovery, and to do that within a tight and, indeed, tightening budget. The Government and the Parliament are responding. Last week's approval of the budget was a tremendously positive step towards recovery and for our public services. It was a huge success that the budget was agreed to by such a resounding majority across the Parliament; indeed, I think that it was worth submitting the budget twice to achieve that resounding majority.

Today, the Government seeks parliamentary approval for the appointment of three new Scottish ministers. We are bringing in fresh talent, fresh faces and the energy and experience to help move Scotland forward.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

He did pause after "fresh faces".

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I shall have to defend the face of Mr Russell from such attacks.

From day one, this Government has run a smaller Cabinet, which is supported by a smaller, closer-knit ministerial team. I submit that that model is working well. It has embodied the purpose of sustainable economic growth at the very heart of the Government.

Today we are making practical changes to some ministerial portfolios, which I will outline for the Parliament. Let me talk about the new ministerial team. Alex Neil, ever a man of independent mind, joins the Government as the Minister for Housing and Communities. He brings with him substantial experience in economic affairs and private business, and he has been a member and a convener of some key parliamentary committees, so he has the heavyweight experience to take the right decisions on the future of housing and regeneration in Scotland.

Shona Robison will take on responsibility for sport, as Minister for Public Health and Sport. I have explained to Alex Neil that that decision had nothing whatsoever to do with ageism; rather, there was an overwhelming practical case for it. The Commonwealth games have given Scotland the opportunity for a revolution in sport, but also for a revolution in lifestyles and our people's health.

Keith Brown is battle hardened by his years in local government, the Royal Marines and his two years in the Parliament. He is appointed as Minister for Schools and Skills. I know that he is committed to maintaining the highest standards in Scottish education and training. In doing so, he will oversee the implementation of the expanded modern apprenticeships programme and the curriculum for excellence.

I am delighted to welcome Roseanna Cunningham to the ministerial team. She has distinguished herself as convener of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee and takes over from Michael Russell as the Minister for Environment. I know that colleagues throughout the chamber recognise her abilities. We look forward to working together on vital new bills on climate change and flooding.

Finally, Michael Russell will move to become minister with responsibility for culture, external affairs and the constitution. His work as the Minister for Environment has brought progress on tackling wildlife crime, crofting reform, protecting Scottish aquaculture, and, in the spirit of the year of homecoming, the return of the beaver to Scotland after 400 years of exile. He will have responsibility in the office of the First Minister for Scotland's arts and creative sectors, the long-term success of which he is committed to, and he will lead on the reform of the constitution, which is, obviously, a signal issue for the Government and Scotland. Reform of the constitution offers the only sure prospect of a strong, wealthier and fairer nation. Of course, the work will also involve the revived joint ministerial committees, the British-Irish Council, evidence from the national conversation and, indeed, evidence to other bodies, which we will submit after the budget talks.

The proposed changes that we are submitting to Parliament are strong. The Government is focused on protecting Scotland from the downturn, promoting recovery and seeking the new responsibilities for our society and economy that are needed to truly flourish. We are seeking the Parliament's approval for the new ministerial team to take forward that vital work.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that Roseanna Cunningham, Alex Neil and Keith Brown be appointed as junior Scottish Ministers.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 4:37 pm, 12th February 2009

I rise to oppose the appointment of Alex Neil as minister with responsibility for communities. In doing so, I make it clear that I have no personal issue with Mr Neil. He and I have enjoyed many lively exchanges in the past, when he was convener of the Enterprise and Culture Committee. That was back in the days when he was a man of independent mind. Now, of course, the one-time fundamentalist has sold his soul to the gradualists. The firebrand of the Scottish National Party back benches has had his flames well and truly doused by the lure of an office in the ministerial tower and a seat in the back of a ministerial Mondeo. He is the man who famously once said that hell would freeze over before he was appointed as a minister. I know that it has been snowing today, but I did not realise that it was quite as cold as that. We genuinely wish him well in his new role.

Of course, Mr Neil's promotion has created a new vacancy for minister for "Newsnight". No calamity for the Government over the past two years has been too great for Alex Neil not to be trotted out late at night to defend the indefensible and develop a brass neck to match his ruddy complexion. The minister for "Newsnight" is a vital role. It is, sadly, unremunerated and usually filled by an ultra-loyal and obsequious back bencher with an eye on the future. Observers who are less generous than I might comment that Mr Neil initially seemed to be poorly qualified and an unlikely choice for that essential position, but he nevertheless performed adeptly and ditched principles and pride faster than the Government could ditch manifesto commitments.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I inform members that not everyone who goes on "Newsnight" is obsequious.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

The question on members' lips is who will fulfil the vital role of minister for "Newsnight" now that Mr Neil has gone. Could it go to a rising star from the new intake with a "Newsnight" track record—Christina McKelvie, say, or another member? We wait with bated breath.

Of course, it is not just Alex Neil who has been promoted in the reshuffle; in addition to Keith Brown, Michael Russell will move up, and Roseanna Cunningham will come into the Government. There will be three former challengers for the SNP leadership in the Government. Back in 2004 they were all at one another's throats. We have to ask how much bad blood there will be in the Government with all those big egos battling for attention.

The Government now contains all previous SNP leadership candidates in the Parliament with the sole exception of poor Bill Wilson, who still languishes on the back benches. He should not be despondent. Surely it is only a matter of time before his distinct skills and expertise are required on the front bench. Sooner or later, we are bound to be faced with a national infestation of mouse droppings and Alex Salmond will be on the phone to Bill Wilson in an instant, inviting him to join the Government.

Let us spare a thought for the other big beasts of the SNP who have been left out in the cold. Just imagine poor Christine Grahame sitting by the phone all day on Tuesday waiting for it to ring, but not a call came from Bute house. Never mind, her time may well come, because the striking thing about the reshuffle is how limited it is. The First Minister had the chance to freshen up his Cabinet and cut out the dead wood, but he has fluffed it. He has a Cabinet Secretary for Justice who prefers Burns suppers in Canada to knife crime summits in Edinburgh; a Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment who seems to have forgotten the meaning of collective cabinet responsibility when it comes to the Elgin bypass; and a Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning who is undoubtedly the weakest link, having lost seven parliamentary votes in the past year. The Government is running out of steam as fast as it is running out of ideas and it is desperately in need of new blood, instead of which the First Minister has filled it with bad blood.

So I say to Christine Grahame, Bill Wilson, Alasdair Allan, Christina McKelvie and all the other wannabe ministers on the SNP back benches that they should not despair for their time will surely come. Keep sucking up, no matter how humiliating it is—it worked for Alex Neil. If they keep accepting the invitations to appear on "Newsnight", one day that ministerial car can be theirs.

As I have made my points, and in view of the high personal regard that I have for Mr Neil, I will not move the amendment in my name.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 4:41 pm, 12th February 2009

One of the few pleasures of being in opposition is spectating as the Government party experiences a reshuffle and watching its impact on the selected individuals who have lost their jobs, on those who have gained the exciting opportunity that ministerial office presents and, of course, on those who have doggedly sought preferment but been disappointed. Perhaps next time. I should predicate my comments by saying that it is a great privilege to be in ministerial office. I wish those who are departing office well and send every good wish to those who are going into office, which is a privilege to which we all aspire.

As ever, the First Minister's cohorts have been spinning fit to burst but, even by the First Minister's standards, the spin has stretched credibility to breaking point. First, we are told that Mike Russell is to be responsible for the national conversation. That responsibility is to be given to a man who has shown no evidence whatever throughout his parliamentary career that he understands that conversation includes people other than himself speaking and that it might possibly involve listening rather than lecturing.

Secondly, we are told that Alex Neil represents fresh talent and that he is a critic being brought into the fold. With all due respect, I go back a long way with Alex Neil—so far that I can remember when he believed that social justice should be at the centre of Government policy, not in the margins where Mr Salmond's trickle-down economics place it—but not even he, who has shown a remarkable ability to argue for anything in the past year and a half, could possibly characterise himself as a fresh face. I can only hazard a guess at how those SNP members whose faces are a deal fresher than mine or Mr Neil's feel about that.

I considered for a moment the possibility that, in this Parliament of minorities, we should all be allowed to choose an SNP back bencher to be given the job—perhaps someone who has displayed a scintilla of independent thought—but even I, optimistic soul that I am, recognise a tough job when I see one. In the unreal world that is the Parliament, where the first rule should always be to expect the unexpected, the transformation of Alex Neil, the alleged critic, from thorn in the flesh to Salmond's little helper has been breathtaking. Week after week, we have witnessed him in full flow, shouting, bawling and crawling in equal measure. The reality of course is that the loyalty of the back benchers has been bought by the promise of the one thing that unites them—a Government that is focused entirely on seeking constitutional fights as a means of separating us from the rest of the United Kingdom. That is the key message of the ministerial and other decisions that Mr Salmond has made this week: separation is now everything.

Ministers who are departing office should not blame themselves or allow themselves to be joined to the long list of alibis that the First Minister uses at every opportunity. They could work only with the cards that they were dealt.

The Government has failed in its housing policy, which prompted the lobbying today by trade unionists, housing organisations and community volunteers; in its environmental policy, which seeks to privatise our forests, as a result of listening to Rothschild rather than rural workers; in its culture policy, which prompted unprecedented unity of artists in protest; and its schools policy, which—remarkably—has not resulted in the building of one school being commissioned in nearly two years.

I welcome the new ministers to their posts and urge them to do in government what they did not do on the back benches—to speak up. I urge them to do what their boss regularly fails to do—to listen to those who live with the consequences of the misguided action in their ministerial portfolios and the wilful lack of action by the Government on the economy. If the new ministers do that, perhaps the First Minister's failed policies might be challenged.

Labour members understand that the critical issue is that the Government should work in the interests of the people of Scotland. All the reshuffles in the world will not make the difference that we need, which would come from the First Minister, the Cabinet, ministers and the governing party putting aside their constitutional obsessions and using their existing powers to support families and communities throughout Scotland. If the ministerial change brings about such a change, that will be welcome.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 4:46 pm, 12th February 2009

When I heard of the First Minister's proposed ministerial appointments, my first instinct was to phone the administrators of the Geneva convention. What cruel and unusual punishment had the First Minister inflicted on Alex Neil? As we have heard, Mr Neil was the minister for "Newsnight". Now, he is not. We can only imagine what torture it will be for him to turn on "Newsnight Scotland" every night and find that he is not on the programme. However, we have heard enough about Mr Neil this afternoon. I am sure that we will hear much more in the future.

I will take this opportunity to ask questions about the proposed appointment of Roseanna Cunningham and any changes to Government policy that might flow from her appointment. Roseanna Cunningham has advocated to Parliament three distinctive policy positions on the environment. First, she called for the decision on the Beauly to Denny transmission line to be delayed until the option of burying the cable underground for the entire route had been fully investigated and more recently, in a debate just last month on 22 January, she urged the then Minister for Environment to change the funding system for flood relief. Did she win that argument when she discussed her appointment with the First Minister? We would all like to know the answer. Will she present to Parliament a better system of paying for flood prevention, which she has frequently advocated? She has also said that she supports a moratorium on wind farm developments and a "suspension of applications". Is she to be the Minister for Environment? Will those three personal policies that Ms Cunningham championed from the back benches accompany her and become official Government policy? We need to hear a single view from the Government. Will the First Minister tell us that view?

Will the First Minister also respond to my principal concern about the reshuffle, which is that it does nothing to tackle the recession and unemployment? The SNP Government's priority is to have a stronger team that is ready for the independence bill—the First Minister just mentioned that. Its top priority is more powers for the SNP, not more action for the economy. We know that the SNP is embarrassed about that, because it announced the ministerial changes at the moment when the nation's attention was on high noon for the bankers in London. When Scotland faces an economic storm, the First Minister appoints a minister for independence, rather than a minister for economic recovery. If he is not embarrassed about that, he certainly should be.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 4:49 pm, 12th February 2009

I enjoyed Murdo Fraser's speech. I am sorry to say that there will not be quite as many jokes in my speech as there were in his. My speech is more an expression of genuine sorrow at our decision not to support the appointments.

The loss of Alex Neil from our television screens is somewhat different for Robin Harper and me because we are also losing him as a neighbour; the fourth floor will not be the same. That said, Alex is welcome to join Linda, Robin and me up on the fourth floor for a wee whisky some evening, if time permits.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The invitation is on a first come, first served basis.

In 2007, following what was a difficult election for us, we entered into an agreement with the Government to support its ministerial appointments. I am glad that we did that. At the time, the political party that had come into power had strong commitments on, for example, a 3 per cent annual cut in greenhouse gas emissions. It also had a strong commitment against nuclear power in Scotland and was committed to a range of policies including a transition away from the use of fossil fuels. We also shared a common response to certain economic issues. However, I regret the fact that the political party that is in power has dropped its commitment to a 3 per cent annual cut in greenhouse gas emissions and that it appears to be willing to review its opposition to nuclear power in Scotland.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Yes—indeed it has. That was acknowledged in the chamber recently. [ Interruption. ] If I may, Presiding Officer, I would like to continue.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

As we have all seen over recent weeks, the SNP is a political party that does not always engage as constructively on budget issues as it could.

I recognise that abstaining in the vote will be merely symbolic. However, I hope that the Government understands that it will be a symbol not of scathing criticism, but of hope—hope that the SNP will continue to improve its track record, restore its commitment to a 3 per cent minimum annual cut in greenhouse gas emissions and begin to adopt coherent and radical responses to the economic crisis, climate crisis, and energy crisis to come. Sadly, thus far, it has not done enough to convince us. As the months go on, it will have the opportunity to do so.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I call Margo MacDonald. You have no more than four minutes, Ms MacDonald.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 4:52 pm, 12th February 2009

I cannot think what I would fill four minutes with, Presiding Officer.

I came into the debate only because I wanted to find out about the squirrels, but no one has mentioned them. I assume that Roseanna Cunningham will be more thoughtful in how she despatches them than Mike Russell was. He had every intention of hitting them over the head. It is just as well that the First Minister has had the wisdom to move Mike Russell to a department where he is not allowed to hit people over the head—or perhaps he will.

My real concern is for the SNP members who were not given a job.

Members:

Ah.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Yes. I have this message for them: say what you think all the time and you will end up just like me—going on "Newsnight".

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party 4:53 pm, 12th February 2009

Actually, Margo, I was thinking of taking over the role of minister for "Newsnight". I say to Murdo Fraser that Alex Neil took extremely well his demotion from minister for "Newsnight" to being a Government minister. In case there is any suggestion of favouritism towards Mr Neil, I acknowledge that he is the only one of the three new ministerial appointments who did not stand against me for leadership of the Scottish National Party.

I know that Murdo Fraser was speaking more in jest than in anger. I take his not moving his amendment as a sign that Alex Neil's persuasive powers go beyond even the ranks of the SNP and have affected Murdo, too. Even in jest, I think that Murdo Fraser recognises that there is in Alex Neil a substantial parliamentary contributor. I believe that he will make a very substantial contribution to the Government.

Johann Lamont was lighter on the jokes than were other members, but I am sure that that was just for this occasion. You should beware of the idea that everybody who gets into Government and stays there is guilty of "crawling" and "sucking up". Johann, your name does not appear among the 21 ministerial resignations of the previous Administration. Under that criterion, you were more successful in those days of sucking up and crawling than the 21 who demitted office in one form or another.

Sometimes it is true that people get promoted into Government to see what their talents and abilities can do for the good of the party, the Parliament and the country. That is why I offer the three new ministerial appointments to the Parliament.

Patrick, I—

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

First Minister, I am sorry to interrupt. I know this is a relatively light-hearted debate, but I like members to be called by their full names. Thank you.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I beg your pardon, Presiding Officer.

I say to Patrick Harvie that we seem to have upset him somewhat. My attitude and the Government's attitude to nuclear power remains absolutely unchanged. I think I said at First Minister's question time last week that my view is that every additional billion pounds—and it would be billions—that was invested in new nuclear generation would be a billion pounds not invested in either renewable power or carbon capture generation. On the other matters that he mentioned, perhaps we can take the time to carry on the discussion elsewhere.

I say to Mike Rumbles that the basis of collective governmental responsibility means that, in policy terms, people occasionally have to put their own views to one side in order to be part of a collective, coherent team. People have always wondered whether Mike Rumbles would, if the occasion presented itself at some time, entirely manage to do that. He picked on a few of Roseanna Cunningham's views: if the process was reversed and she was picking on a range of Mr Rumbles's views, she would perhaps have slightly more material.

On the Beauly to Denny project, the procedure was set up by the previous Government. It would not be sensible to interfere with that procedure because doing so would invalidate the process. I have every confidence that Roseanna Cunningham will retain her individuality and her independence of thought and action, as well as being part of a collective, coherent team.

Finally, I turn to the shortest speech, which came from Margo MacDonald. Because she is not in the Scottish National Party any more, Margo's name did not come across my desk as a potential candidate, but I would not in any circumstances have denied the people of this country the opportunity to see her on "Newsnight", where I confidently expect to join her, now that I have taken over as minister for that particular function.

With those remarks, I ask Parliament to agree that Keith Brown, Roseanna Cunningham and Alex Neil be appointed as junior ministers in the Government.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

As the amendment in the name of Murdo Fraser was not moved, the question is simply that motion S3M-3431, in the name of the First Minister, on the appointment of junior Scottish ministers, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 1

For: Adam, Brian, Allan, Alasdair, Brown, Keith, Campbell, Aileen, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Harvie, Christopher, Hepburn, Jamie, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Adam, Kidd, Bill, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Margo, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McKee, Ian, McKelvie, Christina, McLaughlin, Anne, McMillan, Stuart, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Gil, Robison, Shona, Russell, Michael, Salmond, Alex, Somerville, Shirley-Anne, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Thompson, Dave, Watt, Maureen, Welsh, Andrew, White, Sandra, Wilson, Bill, Wilson, John
Abstentions: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Ted, Brown, Gavin, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Butler, Bill, Carlaw, Jackson, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Margaret, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Foulkes, George, Fraser, Murdo, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Goldie, Annabel, Gordon, Charlie, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Hume, Jim, Jamieson, Cathy, Johnstone, Alex, Kelly, James, Kerr, Andy, Lamont, Johann, Lamont, John, Livingstone, Marilyn, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Ken, Martin, Paul, McArthur, Liam, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Tom, McConnell, Jack, McGrigor, Jamie, McInnes, Alison, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Mulligan, Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Elaine, O'Donnell, Hugh, Oldfather, Irene, Park, John, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elizabeth, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stewart, David, Stone, Jamie, Tolson, Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Whitton, David

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The result of the division is: For 48, Against 0, Abstentions 79.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that Roseanna Cunningham, Alex Neil and Keith Brown be appointed as junior Scottish Ministers.