Scotland’s new first minister rewards allies with cabinet appointments

Scotland’s new first minister Humza Yousaf on Wednesday unveiled his cabinet, rewarding colleagues who backed his bid to lead the Scottish National party and retaining key figures who served under his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon.

Yousaf, who billed himself as custodian of many of Sturgeon’s flagship social policies, bolstered his progressive credentials by appointing the first ever Scottish government cabinet with a majority made up of women.

After being sworn in as first minister on Wednesday, Yousaf is now seeking to rebuild the pro-independence SNP’s reputation for governing competence.

“I have committed myself to a radical, ambitious and progressive policy agenda for Scotland and I know that this team is the right one to deliver it,” he said.

But Gerry Hassan, professor of social change at Glasgow Caledonian university, said Yousaf could struggle to convince Scots that the SNP would deliver improvements in areas such as health and education after nearly 16 years in power.

“There’s going to have to be a change of tone and substance, and for them to do things that impact on people’s lives,” he added. “Turning around a big ship that’s been going off course is a big ask.”

Yousaf, who is the first Scottish first minister from an ethnic minority background, has promised to heal divisions exposed during the often bitter SNP leadership contest.

Humza Yousaf takes the oath as he is sworn in as first minister of Scotland at the Court of Session in Edinburgh © Jane Barlow/PA

His main rival in the race, former finance secretary Kate Forbes, strongly criticised Yousaf’s record in government.

While Forbes said she backs Yousaf and his new cabinet, she refused his offer to serve in a more junior position as rural affairs secretary.

Yousaf on Wednesday appointed Shona Robison, a close friend and ally of Sturgeon, as finance secretary, having previously nominated her to be deputy first minister.

Màiri McAllan, the former environment minister and a rising star in the SNP, was promoted to be secretary for net zero. Six of the 10 cabinet portfolios went to women.

Yousaf promoted Neil Gray, the former culture minister and his campaign manager in the SNP leadership contest, to cabinet secretary for the wellbeing economy.

The role of health secretary, previously held by Yousaf, was taken by Michael Matheson.

Angus Robertson, who served under Sturgeon as constitution secretary, retains the same post in Yousaf’s cabinet.

In what is likely to be seen as a blow to attempts to repair strained ties with Scotland’s corporate sector during Sturgeon’s time in power, Ivan McKee, the business minister and an early Forbes supporter, left the government after being offered a post with fewer responsibilities.

McKee was one of the few ministers in Sturgeon‘s government seen to be pro-business.

But David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, a business lobby group, said it welcomed the appointments of Robison and Gray, which he said came “at a pivotal moment” for Scotland’s economy.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, accused Yousaf of rewarding loyalty over talent.

“The first minister promised to bring the country together, but he can’t even bring his own party together,” she added.

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