I seek the Parliament’s approval for the appointment of Angela Constance as a Scottish junior minister. I begin by reiterating the point that I made last week at First Minister’s question time: that the drug deaths figures that were published last week are completely unacceptable. Behind each and every one of those statistics lies a real human story: one of tragedy, lost opportunity and grieving families.
The appointment of a dedicated minister for drug policy, who will report directly to me, signals the Government’s renewed determination to take on the challenge and tackle the level of drug-related deaths in our society. Angela’s task is to ensure that we not only prevent people from dying from drugs but help those with drug addiction to live better and healthier lives. She is well aware that taking on the role is an enormous responsibility, but she brings to it significant personal and professional experience. In a previous life as a prison social worker and more recently, of course, as cabinet secretary responsible for tackling poverty, inequality and homelessness, Angela has dealt first hand with many of the issues that are often closely linked to problem drug use.
Angela Constance also has a track record of taking on tough issues. In a previous ministerial role, she took on the very specific—and, at that time, urgent—task of tackling rising youth unemployment in the face of a severe recession. After she listened to the broad range of views on how to solve the crisis, the measures that she put in place helped to drive youth unemployment in Scotland to one of the lowest levels in the European Union. That was a significant achievement and one of the reasons why I believe that she is, at this point, the right person for the job.
The challenges that Angela faces in the role are different from those ones, but I know that she has not wasted a moment before getting down to business. She is already engaging with members of the drug deaths task force; she and I had a lengthy discussion yesterday about the challenges and priorities; and I understand that she is arranging to speak to Opposition spokespeople as soon as possible.
Alongside Angela Constance’s appointment, I am making other changes to the Scottish Government’s ministerial team. I have appointed Mairi Gougeon as Minister for Public Health and Sport to replace Joe FitzPatrick.
I take this opportunity to thank Joe FitzPatrick for his service. He himself recognised that it was time for fresh leadership on the drugs challenge. Joe brought a decency and determination to the Government that I am grateful for.
As part of her responsibilities, Mairi Gougeon will take the lead on the delivery of Covid-19 testing across Scotland, with Jeane Freeman leading on the roll-out of the vaccine across the country. Given that she will have responsibility for improving the country’s health, it of course helps that Mairi is herself very physically active and regularly puts us all to shame with her dedication to keeping fit. I would like to say that my 10km time is faster than hers, but I am keeping mine confidential.
Ben Macpherson will take on the role of Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment at a critical time in the fight against climate change and as we take new steps to protect our diverse and wonderful natural environment.
Jenny Gilruth will take on responsibility for migration in addition to her role as Minister for Europe and International Development, and Ivan McKee will work with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to support business through the pandemic and take forward work to ensure that our procurement policies are backing Scottish business. That follows up his recent work on building the personal protective equipment supply chain. He will also support the Cabinet Secretary for Finance in finalising the budget, which is due to be published in January.
As we come towards the end of what has been a tough year for the whole country and as we look towards what will be an unusual Christmas, it is clear that the country is being buffeted by a number of different headwinds. Neither I nor my ministerial team will be taking much of a break over the next couple of weeks; we will be working closely together to prepare Scotland for what will be a busy and challenging 2021. Today’s appointments ensure that the Government remains fit and ready for the challenges ahead.
That the Parliament agrees that Angela Constance be appointed as a junior Scottish Minister.
Motion agreed to.