Salmond shuffle paves the way for referendum campaign

Ed Jacobs reports on Alex Salmond's reshuffling of the Scottish government.


“Anything you can do, I can do better” – so said the words from the 1940s broadway musical, Annie Get Your Gun Out, and it’s hard not to think that that is what Alex Salmond yesterday had on his iPod.

Following a reshuffle in Westminster which left all the key players in place, Scotland’s first minister and SNP leader shuffled his most senior minister and deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, out of her health portfolio, and gave her a curious dual role, responsible for both infrastructure, investment and cities as well as government strategy and the constitution. A job once undertaken by two people now being given to one.

Hot off the heels of the Scottish government’s  legislative programme on Tuesday – including proposals for a Referendum Bill – the move is a simple attempt by Alex Salmond to put one of his party’s biggest hitters at the forefront of the campaign to secure an independent Scotland which has led to accusations that:

a). Scotland now has a part time Cabinet Secretary responsible for vital infrastructure and investment projects; and

b). The government machine is now being turned into a propaganda machine for the SNP’s independence dream.

Indeed, Alex Salmond seemed to allude to that very thing, concluding following his reshuffle:

“Over the next two years, this government will set out the positive case for independence and present the real choice facing Scotland’s electorate between decisions about Scotland being taken by the people of Scotland or continued control from Westminster.”

Little wonder, therefore, that the changing of the guard at Holyrood has been met with scepticism to say the least.

Declaring Mr Salmond had “lost touch” with the needs of Scottish families, Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, declared:

“When he put forward his programme for government, the first minister made it clear that the referendum was his one and only priority.

“If anyone had any doubt that he has lost touch with the priorities of Scottish families, it was confirmed when he moved his most senior minister Nicola Sturgeon from health to the constitution. We face a real challenge delivering health services at a time of diminishing resources but Nicola Sturgeon has run away from that to concentrate on the referendum.

“Just this week, the first minister said that there could be no economic recovery without an upturn in construction but the person he has put in charge of this will only be doing the job part-time.”

It was a similar line taken by Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, who argued the Scottish government had shown itself to be “more interested in running the referendum than running the country”.

In its leader column this morning, the Scotsman speculates the reshuffle as a whole indicates the SNP is being positioned for a post-Salmond political landscape.

Drawing similarities between the position of George Osborne and Nicola Sturgeon, the paper this morning explains:

“It comes as no surprise that it has taken five years in power before Salmond has made a major change to his front-bench team. This involves moving Nicola Sturgeon, his heir presumptive, from health secretary to a new role spearheading the independence referendum. Sturgeon has also been appointed cabinet secretary for infrastructure and capital spending, so she can remain at the cabinet table.

“The issue here is the downgrading of the important infrastructure post to form Sturgeon’s second job. That gives a wrong signal at a time when – in most voters’ consideration – the economy and not the constitution should be the Scottish Government’s first priority.

“A similar debate is going on at Westminster, with many (including Tory MPs) questioning the fact the George Osborne is both chancellor and the Conservative Party’s chief political strategist. Possibly, Sturgeon and Osborne are clever enough to do both tasks, but the unemployed would be glad of just a single day job.

“That said, the fact that someone as senior and capable as Nicola Sturgeon is fronting the referendum means the country will now expect answers more quickly on the many procedural questions that remain to be answered. The first minister has played a canny game when it comes to prolonging the referendum till 2014, and seeking to talk up the possibility of a second question. Such is politics.

“But Sturgeon is now in the public front line when it comes to the constitutional mechanics of the referendum. She has to take that role seriously and not treat the electorate as voting fodder to be manipulated.

“As for the rest of the reshuffle, Alex Neil, sometime ally of Jim Sillars, takes over Sturgeon’s sensitive health portfolio. Neil is a political bruiser in the Denis Healey mould. His move to health could prove significant if he uses his talents to find ways of boosting productivity in the public sector.

The four new junior ministers, including Glasgow MSP Humza Yousaf at external affairs, represent the SNP post-devolution – hungry for power and pragmatic. While this reshuffle is hardly revolutionary, it hints that there will still be politics after Alex Salmond.”

But perhaps the last word should go to the Daily Record; in recognising the talents of the SNP team, the paper concludes:

“Scots clearly recognised that when they gave the SNP such a overwhelming vote of confidence in last year’s election.

“Unfortunately, this talent is now largely wasted on securing unneeded and, according to all opinion polls, unwanted constitutional change.

“Imagine what they could achieve if they put as much energy and inventiveness into the economy, jobs and eradicating poverty…”

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