Scottish Ministers

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 20 February 2024.

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The next item of business is a debate on motions S6M-12210 and S6M-12211, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the appointment of Scottish ministers and junior Scottish ministers. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.

I call the First Minister to speak to and move the motions.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Before I speak to my motions, I welcome Tim Eagle to the Scottish Parliament. There is simply no doubt that we will have lots of political differences, but I genuinely wish him well. There is no greater honour than representing one’s community in this nation’s Parliament. I wish him all the best in the role that he is taking up. [

Applause

.]

In addition, I pay tribute to Donald Cameron, who—again, for all our political differences—I always thought of as very considered, thoughtful and quite often non-partisan. I suggest that those traits are needed very much in the Scotland Office. I pay tribute to him for often working constructively with the Scottish Government. I wish him well and look forward to engaging with him in due course.

I turn to the motions in my name. I hope that Parliament will agree that Fiona Hyslop be appointed as cabinet secretary and that Kaukab Stewart and Jim Fairlie be appointed as ministers in the Scottish Government.

However, let me start by paying tribute to Elena Whitham, who has been a valued member of my ministerial team since 2022. As she has said publicly, she has stepped down for health reasons from her role as Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy. It is important to note that the people who are working collectively to address the harm that Scotland is experiencing due to drugs and alcohol—particularly people with lived experience—have greatly appreciated Elena’s open, honest and compassionate manner, and her work in taking forward proposals for reviewing drug laws. I sincerely hope that we will see Elena back in ministerial office in the future. I commend her for speaking courageously about her health, and I wish her all the best for the future.

I also thank Michael Matheson for his work in the Government over the past 13 years. As Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, Cabinet Secretary for Justice and, most recently, Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care, he had many notable achievements to his name. In those roles, he undoubtedly improved the lives of many people across the country. Most recently, as health secretary, he secured a fair deal with our NHS Scotland junior doctors and ensured that Scotland continues to be the only nation in the United Kingdom that has not lost a single day to doctors’ strike action.

I turn to members who are joining the Government for the first time. Kaukab Stewart and Jim Fairlie bring to their roles a wealth of significant professional experience, which will translate well into ministerial office.

The appointment of Kaukab Stewart as Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development is a historic moment for the Government and the Parliament. As many members will know, Kaukab was a primary school teacher in Glasgow and Edinburgh for three decades before becoming, in 2021, the first woman of colour to be elected to the Scottish Parliament. She is now the first woman of colour to hold ministerial office in the Scottish Government. I am really proud to lead a party that has worked hard over many years to ensure much greater diversity in our national Parliament. Whether it is about the late, great Bashir Ahmad becoming the first person of colour to be elected to the Parliament or, as I have mentioned, Kaukab now becoming the first woman of colour to serve in our Government, we should all be proud of the progress that we are making to ensure that the Parliament better reflects the communities that we all seek to serve. Equally, we all recognise that there is still much work to do in that regard. I am sure that Kaukab will bring her experience as convener of the Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee to her new role.

Kaukab Stewart takes over from Christina McKelvie, who, as Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy, will now report directly to me. I know that she is looking forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that Christina will take on the role with the empathy and compassion that she has brought to every role that she has had in the Government.

Jim Fairlie will become Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity. As a former sheep farmer and the man who founded Scotland’s first farmers market in Perth more than two decades ago, he is well versed in the needs of the agriculture and farming sector. I am pleased to say that he is already using his extensive experience in rural affairs, business and food and drink to drive forward the Government’s priorities and to stand up for rural Scotland. He is an excellent addition to the Government’s ministerial team.

I am also seeking the Parliament’s approval for the appointment of Fiona Hyslop as Cabinet Secretary for Transport. I am deeply proud of the fact that her introduction to the Cabinet means that the Scottish Government has, we believe, the highest proportion of women of any Government in the world. We should all take great pride in that. Fiona Hyslop is one of the most formidable, experienced and accomplished ministers in the Government. She has had significant achievements throughout her life in Government—not least as the minister who was responsible for abolishing the back-door tuition fees that were foisted on Scotland by Labour and the Liberal Democrats back in the early days of devolution. Since her appointment as Minister for Transport last year, she has overseen progress on the Levenmouth rail link, removed peak fares across all ScotRail services and brought Caledonian Sleeper’s service into public ownership.

Two other cabinet secretaries take up new and expanded roles that reflect the Government’s priorities. Neil Gray, who has become Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care, has proved himself to be a highly capable cabinet secretary since his appointment to the Cabinet. He is well respected across the business community, and he engages well with stakeholders. I know that he will bring the same energy and drive to his new brief. He will be charged with supporting the most important and most precious institution in our country: the national health service. He will support its recovery from Covid, work on bringing down waiting times and reform the service to improve outcomes for patients.

Màiri McAllan is taking on the new expanded brief of Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy. It is right to combine those portfolios, given the massive economic opportunity of the green economy. That combination is more important now, given the attempts by Westminster-based parties to derail Scotland’s green revolution.

Scotland has formidable strengths in the energy sector and will, in building on those strengths, be at the very forefront of the global race to net zero, and be home to more green investments, jobs and a wellbeing economy. Màiri McAllan will also, in the coming months, be responsible for driving forward our green industrial strategy and the refresh of the national strategy for economic transformation.

The new appointments mean that we have a strong and diverse team across Government, and with our Green partners and the wider Scottish National Party parliamentary group. It is a team that is focused on the Government’s priorities and the missions that drive them—namely, equality, opportunity and community. That is the team that will continue to deliver and stand up for the people of Scotland and which will, of course, advocate that the best future for our country is one in which all decisions about Scotland are made by the people of Scotland.

I ask Parliament to support the appointments. I am delighted to move the motions in my name.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that Fiona Hyslop be appointed as a Scottish Minister.

That the Parliament agrees that Jim Fairlie and Kaukab Stewart be appointed as junior Scottish Ministers.

Photo of Craig Hoy Craig Hoy Conservative

I echo the First Minister’s welcome to my newest colleague in Parliament, Tim Eagle. I also pay tribute to Donald Cameron. He was a fine parliamentarian, and I am sure that he will be a fine minister in the Scotland Office.

This is a reshuffle that the First Minister did not want to make and one that was brought about by the actions of Michael Matheson, whom Humza Yousaf believed to be a man of integrity—a man who had to sack himself because the First Minister was too weak to do so. This winter, Michael Matheson should have been saving our national health service, but instead he spent it trying to save his own career. Whether they have been misleading the media or mismanaging our health service, SNP ministers have repeatedly failed the accountability test. Mr Matheson leaves Government without a shred of integrity but, having failed to dismiss him, Humza Yousaf is left without a shred of credibility.

For the First Minister, this reshuffle was a missed opportunity to reset his failing leadership, to regain control of the agenda and to kick the Greens into touch. He ducked it, because the Green tail continues to wag the SNP dog. [

Interruption

.]

The Presiding Officer:

Let us hear Mr Hoy.

Photo of Craig Hoy Craig Hoy Conservative

Regardless of how far and how fast Nicola Sturgeon falls, the Government still cannot escape the long shadow that she cast.

I welcome Fiona Hyslop’s appointment, and I recognise that the First Minister is blazing a trail in bringing more women into his Cabinet. It is good to see Fiona Hyslop in her role as Cabinet Secretary for Transport. However, such is the influence of the Greens that the Government is now recycling its Cabinet ministers. We wish her well and, to refer to the words of Kate Forbes, we hope that she has more success in making the trains run on time than her predecessors have had.

Neil Gray takes over where others, including Humza Yousaf, have failed. His is a crucial role, and we wish Mr Gray well in it. We look forward to working with him but, as he takes on this new role, he must see that doing more of the same will not deliver the change that patients clearly need. Two years after Humza Yousaf announced an NHS recovery plan, our NHS is still in crisis. Surely the First Minister can now see what every patient in Scotland sees: that his recovery plan has failed and should be scrapped.

Although there is no place in Humza Yousaf’s Government for Kate Forbes, her close ally Jim Fairlie takes up a rural post. The First Minister is reworking an old proverb: he is keeping his friends close but is keeping the friends of his enemies even closer.

I welcome Kaukab Stewart to the Government. As the First Minister said, it is inspiring to see the first woman of colour join a Scottish Administration. I wish her well as the new Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development. Given how frequently her boss, Angus Robertson, is out of the country, topping up his air miles—it is nice to see him in the chamber today—I am sure that she will be kept very busy deputising for him. [

Interruption

.]

The Presiding Officer:

Let us hear Mr Hoy.

Photo of Craig Hoy Craig Hoy Conservative

For the sake of the country and for the sake of our farmers, our hospitals, our roads and our railways, I would have hoped that the new ministers would tackle the problems that the SNP has created and neglected over the past 17 years. Sadly, I do not live in hope.

As the new ministers climb aboard Humza Yousaf’s sinking ship, they can take comfort from one fact: as long as the First Minister remains in Bute house, their jobs are secure. The real lesson from the Michael Matheson scandal is that Humza Yousaf would prefer to burn what is left of his own credibility than to take action against one of his ministers.

The new Cabinet is just the latest example of an SNP Government that is distracted by division and is pursuing the wrong priorities. Scotland surely deserves better than that.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I, too, pay tribute to Donald Cameron and welcome Tim Eagle to the Parliament. I say to Mr Eagle that he has big shoes to fill.

On behalf of the Scottish Labour Party, I welcome Jim Fairlie and Kaukab Stewart to their first appointments as ministers and welcome Fiona Hyslop, who is the SNP’s comeback queen. Before I turn to each of those members, I will make a few general observations.

The new ministers have a hard task ahead of them. They have to wrestle with poor budget decisions in their portfolios and with keeping their Green Party colleagues on side—which I know Jim Fairlie has views about. They also have to wrestle with ensuring that their devices have the correct data packages applied when they go on holiday, because roaming charges—or, more accurately, their cover-up—are why we are in this position.

We have an SNP Government with 30 cabinet secretaries and ministers—the largest-ever Government in Scotland—at a cost of more than £3 million in salaries alone. I keep asking myself whether they are worth it. With ferries not sailing, the A9 not being dualled, new hospitals and general practitioner surgeries being cancelled and 830,000 Scots on waiting lists, I fear that the answer is no.

The Government is failing, and I am not convinced that the addition of more ministers will stop the ship from sinking. If the SNP Government continues to grow, as it has done since 2007, I am sure that there will still be plenty of opportunities for those who did not get picked this time to get a turn before 2026.

In particular, I welcome Jim Fairlie to his post as Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity. Mr Fairlie is well liked by all across the chamber, and his knowledge of the agriculture sector will, no doubt, be invaluable to Parliament. However, Mr Fairlie comes from one of the SNP’s factions that advocates change rather than the status quo. It is recognised that he is a fig leaf for the First Minister, who did not want to recruit the actual change agenda candidate, Kate Forbes, to his team. I am sure that Mr Fairlie will be more than up to the job in her absence.

I also welcome Kaukab Stewart to her new position as Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development. I recognise that she is the first woman of colour to become a minister in Scotland, and I congratulate her on that achievement. However, the brief brings with it a lot of travel. In fact, many positions in the Scottish Government seem to include a fair bit of globetrotting, but I will leave it to Ms Stewart to decide whether charging the taxpayer £11,000 to deliver a 15-minute speech in Los Angeles is better value than popping in via Zoom.

I also welcome Fiona Hyslop back to the Scottish Government in her role as Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity. She was doing the same job as a minister and is clearly being promoted because she knows where the bodies are buried for the ferry fiasco and the lack of dualling of the A9. Members who have been in the Parliament as long as I have will know that Ms Hyslop has worn many hats under each of the SNP’s First Ministers, so she will doubtless bring a wealth of knowledge to the brief.

Having been in the Cabinet of, and then demoted by, both former SNP First Ministers, Fiona Hyslop has survived them all. I am reminded of Persephone, who, in Greek mythology, leaves the underworld for six months of the year and goes back for the remaining six. For Fiona Hyslop’s sake, I hope that she at least occasionally makes it out of the underworld that she is about to enter.

I offer the Scottish Labour Party’s good wishes to the three members who are going into the Government today, but the Government is tired, out of ideas and out of road. Scotland has got worse under the SNP and, no matter how gifted those individuals may be, the die is cast. Change is coming.

Photo of Gillian Mackay Gillian Mackay Green

I welcome Tim Eagle to the chamber. I sincerely hope that his jokes are better than Craig Hoy’s.

I thank those who are leaving their positions in Government for all their work. I have found Elena Whitham and Michael Matheson to be constructive; they engaged well with me on a variety of issues. I am looking forward to working with Neil Gray in his new role as Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care, and Christina McKelvie as the new Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy. I know how fierce they both are in their approach to their portfolios. There are many challenges to deal with, and I am sure that they will take the opportunity to be open and collaborative, as their predecessors were.

My party is pleased to see the return of transport to a Cabinet position and we congratulate Fiona Hyslop on her return to Cabinet. My colleagues are looking forward to continuing to work with her on cutting car miles, improving rail and bus services and improving connectivity across the country.

I also congratulate Màiri McAllan on her expanded portfolio. Joining up the economy and net zero will, we hope, open up all the opportunities of a green economy.

Finally, I congratulate the two new ministers, Jim Fairlie and Kaukab Stewart, on their first appointments to the Government. I know that my colleagues are looking forward to working with both of them. It is worth noting the significance of Kaukab Stewart’s appointment, making her the first woman of colour to enter Government. That will make not just the Parliament but the Government better reflect Scotland as a whole.

We hope that the recess has given the new ministers some time to get to grips with their new portfolios, even if it has not given them a rest. I am sure that their friends and families are proud of them, and we look forward to working with them on what comes next to bring Scotland a bright future.

The First Minister:

I will start with what I thought was the best contribution—Gillian Mackay’s. It was thoughtful and considered and she rose to the occasion. I have sat through many of these contributions over the years and I have always found it genuinely sad that politicians are unable to rise to the occasion, no matter what the occasion is. This is an important day, particularly for those who are entering Government for the first time. For literally five minutes, all that members had to do was rise to the occasion, but Craig Hoy singularly failed to do that. No wonder we heard cries to bring back Jackson—I fully endorse those cries. I get that Craig Hoy has no hope of ministerial office unless he donates to the Tory party, when he might well become a lord and then be brought back into the Scotland Office. Who knows? That might well happen to him.

On Jackie Baillie’s contribution, I tend to believe that it is better to let the Scottish people give their verdict on whether we have done a good job. That is why we were elected in 2007, re-elected in 2011, re-elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2021. Jackie Baillie shouts that we are on our way out, that her time has come and that the die is cast. The one thing that I say to her is that she is short of policy ideas, and any constructive ideas, but she is full of hubris. People will see through that time and again. It is a unique Scottish Labour trait to take the people of this country for granted. Jackie Baillie asks whether it is worth it to have an SNP Government. I suggest asking the 93,000 children who are no longer in poverty because of the action that we have taken whether it is worth it. What about the record number of young people from areas of deprivation who are now going to university? Was it worth it? What about the under-22s with free bus travel and so on?

I can see the Presiding Officer indicating that my time is up. I will end exactly where I started. I hope that the Parliament will agree to the changes that I have made. In particular, I welcome Jim Fairlie and Kaukab Stewart to the Government. I have no doubt that they will serve the Government and the country well.

The Presiding Officer:

There are two questions to be put. The first question is, that motion S6M-12210, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the appointment of a Scottish minister, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

The Presiding Officer:

The Parliament is not agreed, so we will move to the vote. There will be a short suspension to allow members to access the digital voting system.

14:49 Meeting suspended.

14:52 On resuming—

The question is, that motion S6M-12210, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the appointment of a Scottish minister, be agreed to. Members should cast their votes now.

The vote is now closed.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My app would not connect. I would have voted yes.

The Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Mr McLennan. We will ensure that your vote is recorded.

Photo of Craig Hoy Craig Hoy Conservative

On a point of order, Presiding Officer—I am not sure whether this is a point of order, or even material. I understand from colleagues who are not in the chamber that the division bell did not ring. I seek your guidance on whether it should have done.

The Presiding Officer:

As it was a scheduled vote, there was no division bell.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am uncertain whether my vote went through.

The Presiding Officer:

I can confirm that your vote has been recorded, Mr Beattie.

Division number 1 Scottish Ministers

Aye: 58 MSPs

No: 8 MSPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Abstained: 21 MSPs

Abstained: A-Z by last name

The Presiding Officer:

The result of the division on motion S6M-12210, in the name of Humza Yousaf, is: For 58, Against 8, Abstentions 21.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that Fiona Hyslop be appointed as a Scottish Minister.

The next question is, that motion S6M-12211, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the appointment of junior Scottish ministers, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

The Presiding Officer:

There will be a division.

The vote is closed.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I still cannot connect. I would have voted yes.

The Presiding Officer:

We will ensure that that is recorded, Mr McLennan.

Division number 2 Scottish Ministers

Aye: 57 MSPs

No: 9 MSPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Abstained: 21 MSPs

Abstained: A-Z by last name

The Presiding Officer:

The result of the division is: For 57, Against 9, Abstentions 21.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that Jim Fairlie and Kaukab Stewart be appointed as junior Scottish Ministers.