Nicola Sturgeon announces Scottish cabinet with equal gender balance

Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland’s first female first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has announced a new cabinet with a 50/50 gender balance, after pledging to put equality at the heart of government.

Announcing the full lineup at Bute House in Edinburgh on Friday lunchtime, Sturgeon said her cabinet was “a clear demonstration that this government will work hard in all areas to promote women, to create gender equality and it sends out a strong message that the business of redressing the gender balance in public life starts right here in government”. Of Sturgeon’s cabinet of nine secretaries as well as herself, five are women.

Sturgeon began her reshuffle by tweeting a selfie with John Swinney, her new deputy first minister. Swinney, who had been widely tipped for the role, is one of Holyrood’s most experienced frontbenchers and has previously served as finance minister for seven years, a position he will continue to hold.

The reshuffle also brought promotion for Shona Robison, a key Sturgeon ally, to health secretary, a position the first minister had held for five years. Angela Constance and Keith Brown, who were unsuccessful in their bids for the deputy leadership of the SNP, have been elevated to lead cabinet positions for the first time with responsibility for education and infrastructure respectively.

Another newcomer is Michael Matheson, who replaces the benighted Kenny McAskill as justice secretary. McAskill had weathered a controversial tenure which saw him draw criticism for his handling of the Megrahi case, the creation of the single Scottish police force, and his attempts to reform the laws on corroboration.

The departure of McAskill, as well as Mike Russell from education, signals a generational shift away from the “79 group”, an SNP faction from the 1980s which included previous first minister Alex Salmond. Alex Neil, who some expected to be shunted out, has been moved from health to the less prominent portfolio of social justice, communities and pensioners’ rights.

Some observers were surprised at the inclusion of Roseanna Cunningham as the new secretary for fair work, skills and training. Her relationship with Sturgeon over the years has been stormy, and she is known to plough her own furrow, vocally disagreeing with the leadership over Nato policy in recent years. But Cunningham’s fierce commitment to independence will appeal to SNP supporters still disappointed by the referendum result.

Describing her cabinet as “a team of all the talents”, Sturgeon said: “The aims of my government are clear: to create a nation that is both socially democratic and socially just, a nation that is confident in itself and governed effectively and a nation which will address poverty, support business, promote growth and tackle inequality.

“The new cabinet team I have announced today will pursue these priorities with verve, vigour and determination.”

Powered by article was written by Libby Brooks, Scotland reporter, for The Guardian on Friday 21st November 2014 15.51 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010