The Scottish Government Reshuffle

Emma Divers

Associate Director - Head of Scotland

The Scottish Government Reshuffle

Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled her new look Government over the past two days in what is her most extensive reshuffle since taking the reigns as First Minister in 2014. There are five new Cabinet Secretaries in the First Minister’s senior team, alongside nine new Junior Ministers. As before, the Cabinet in gender balanced.

The headline of the reshuffle was the departure of Shona Robison, a close friend of Nicola Sturgeon who had served as Health Secretary since 2014. Robison handed in her resignation amidst calls from Labour and the Liberal Democrats for her to stand down after her botched response to the NHS Tayside financial scandal. However, she deserves praise for coping with high office whilst managing a torrid year in her personal life.

Taking over the post is Jeane Freeman, a former Labour advisor who is known to be both competent and tough – two attributes which should help her get a grip on the notoriously difficult portfolio. With cancer waiting times up across Scotland, and the juxtaposition between some well-performing NHS Boards only serving to further highlight those Boards which are failing to live up to expectations, Jeane has her work cut out for her to equalise performance across NHS Scotland in the coming months.

Elsewhere, there was a promotion for Humza Yousaf, who previously served as Minister for Transport and is now taking on the role of Justice Secretary. Humza had widely impressed in his previous role as Transport Minister as he successfully handled this year’s red weather warnings and subsequent transport chaos. In his new role he will be overseeing the delivery of new hate crime legislation following the recent publication of Lord Bracadale’s report which recommends that gender and age should be protected characteristics.

Michael Russell, who had been sacked from the Cabinet in 2014 when Nicola Sturgeon first took over as First Minister, before returning as a Junior Minister in a specially created post to oversee Brexit negotiations in 2016, has made a return to Cabinet as Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations. This highlights the increasing focus the Scottish Government is giving to mitigating the impact of Brexit on the Scottish economy and industry.

Keith Brown, newly elected as the SNP Deputy Leader and the former Economy Secretary also handed in his resignation to take up the job of Campaigns Director. This comes after he, unsuccessfully, suggested he could be both SNP Deputy and a Minister in Government.

While surprising to some, especially considering his previous remarks on the subject, this decision comes at a time in which the SNP membership is fragmenting into two camps – those who want independence now, and those who think it better to wait. As First Minister, and as a firm believer in the second camp, Sturgeon needs someone to rally the membership and appease both sides. Keith Brown will therefore be working to appease the membership and put the SNP on a campaign footing in time for the post-Brexit elections.

Importantly, this reshuffle has injected younger blood into the Scottish Government, with seven of the nine new Junior Ministers having been first elected in 2016. Their addition to the top-table not only brings fresh ideas that will revitalise a party which has been in government for 11 years, but also serves as a reminder that the SNP is only growing in Scotland, with plenty of younger people ready to take the reins once the old guard moves on.

This is a much-needed reminder, as most of the old cabinet had first been elected in 1999, and with the recent SNP Deputy Leadership race highlighting the older, and sometimes more conservative members of the SNP are increasingly out of touch with the younger and more left-leaning membership that Nicola Sturgeon likes to promote.

The reshuffle also puts more focus on preparing the country for Brexit, with an expanded team and more senior oversight in key economy and business portfolios to help generate economic growth and allow the Scottish Government to continue negotiations with the UK Government on the direction of Brexit and its impact on Scotland.

Scottish Cabinet:

• Nicola Sturgeon – First Minister
• John Swinney – Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
• Humza Yousaf – Cabinet Secretary for Justice
• Jeane Freeman – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport
• Derek Mackay – Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work
• Roseanna Cunningham – Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform
• Fergus Ewing – Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy
• Michael Russell – Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations
• Aileen Campbell – Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government
• Fiona Hyslop – Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs
• Michael Matheson – Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity
• Shirley-Anne Somerville – Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People


• Graeme Dey – Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans
• Paul Wheelhouse – Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands
• Ash Denham – Minister for Community Safety
• Maree Todd – Minister for Children and Young People
• Gillian Martin – Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science
• Kevin Stewart – Minister for Housing, Local Government and Planning
• Jamie Hepburn – Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills
• Joe FitzPatrick – Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing
• Clare Haughey – Minister for Mental Health
• Ben Macpherson – Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development
• Christina McKelvie – Minister for Older People and Equalities
• Ivan McKee – Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation
• Kate Forbes – Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy
• Mairi Gougeon – Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment
• James Wolffe QC – Lord Advocate
• Alison Di Rollo – Solicitor General

PLMR Group Ranked 21st in the PRWeek Top 150 Healthcare Table for 2024

Looking Back on the Locals: The Rise of Multi-Party Politics?

Add PLMR to your contacts

PLMR’s crisis communications experience is second to none, and includes pre-emptive and reactive work across traditional and social media channels. We work with a range of organisations to offer critical communication support when they are faced with difficult and challenging scenarios.