UK News

Yousaf says SNP is ‘united' as he appoints supporters to his first Cabinet

Newly elected First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf, centre, with his new Cabinet (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Craig Paton, PA Scotland Deputy Political Editor

New First Minister Humza Yousaf vowed there “could not be more unity” in the SNP as he unveiled his first Cabinet which he said was the “biggest reshuffle” since 2007.

Mr Yousaf said his new Cabinet, in which he gave top roles to his supporters, brings a mix of new faces and experience as junior ministers Jenny Gilruth, Neil Gray and Angela Constance have moved into Cabinet secretary positions and SNP stalwarts including Angus Robertson and Shirley-Anne Somerville remain.

Shona Robison was announced as Mr Yousaf’s Deputy First Minister on Wednesday but she will also take on the finance and economy brief from Kate Forbes, who chose to depart the Government after turning down the role of rural affairs secretary.

Michael Matheson will become Health Secretary; Jenny Gilruth has received a promotion from transport minister to Education Secretary, replacing Shirley-Anne Somerville; Mairi Gougeon will stay in place as Rural Affairs Secretary and Angus Robertson remains the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary.

Shirley-Anne Somerville becomes the Social Justice Secretary replacing Shona Robison and Neil Gray makes his debut in Cabinet as the Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy Secretary.

Angela Constance takes on a Cabinet role once again, replacing Keith Brown as Justice and Home Affairs Secretary.

And Mairi McAllan will become the Energy Secretary.

Of the Cabinet appointments, not one was an opponent of Mr Yousaf’s bid to be leader of the SNP.

Scottish First Minister sworn in
Humza Yousaf takes the oath as he is sworn in as First Minister of Scotland (Jane Barlow/PA)

Giving his first press interviews after being sworn in at the Court of Session on Wednesday, Mr Yousaf told reporters he was “sorry” Ms Forbes did not feel she was able to continue in Government.

The offer to Ms Forbes – seen by many as a demotion – has endangered Mr Yousaf’s attempts to bring together a party that has felt the full impact of a bruising leadership contest, in which he beat Ms Forbes by 52% to 48% of votes in the second round.

Ms Robison told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that Ms Forbes’ decision was based on wanting to get “out of the spotlight” after recently having a baby.

Mr Yousaf said: “I am sorry she didn’t feel she was able to continue in Government but she is still a member of this party.

“Of course, I am disappointed, she’s a great talent and she has a lot to give.

“She is 100% behind this Cabinet team, she is 100% behind me as First Minister.

“She has got a lot to give.”

He added: “We had a good meeting (on Tuesday) after the parliamentary vote and there could not have been more unity in the party.”

Kate Forbes
Former finance secretary Kate Forbes turned down the chance to stay in the Cabinet (Jane Barlow/PA)

SNP Deputy leader Keith Brown will also not be in Mr Yousaf’s Cabinet after Ms Constance replaced him as Justice Secretary.

Mr Yousaf said it was “inevitable” some people had to move on.

“Keith Brown has given us exceptional service to this Government and to the country in many different roles.

“He has his own mandate from the party as deputy leader.”

Former business minister Ivan McKee also turned down a role in Mr Yousaf’s Cabinet to which the First Minister said: “I have many powers as First Minister, but compelling people to be in Government is not one of them.”

Mr Yousaf told the PA news agency it was the “biggest Government reshuffle” since about 2007 with more surprise announcements expected on Thursday when Mr Yousaf unveils his junior ministers.

In a statement after the appointments, the First Minister said: “The Cabinet team I have unveiled reflects the priorities that we will pursue as a Government – including tackling child poverty, improving public services and building a fairer, greener economy.

“Ahead of my appointment as First Minister, 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.”

Mr Yousaf thanked the ministers leaving government, praising their handling of “many storms not of our making”, as well as hailing the leadership of Ms Sturgeon and the former deputy first minister, John Swinney.

He went on to say that the Government should “look as much as possible like the people we represent”, adding he is “pleased” that a record number of women will serve in Cabinet, “as well as a significant blend of younger and more experienced members”, but stressed “every single appointment has been made on merit”.

In the hours before making the appointments, Mr Yousaf was sworn in at the Court of Session on Wednesday morning, making him the first person from an ethnic minority background to hold the post, as well as the youngest.

Wearing a traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez and watched by his family from the public gallery of Scotland’s highest court, Mr Yousaf took the three oaths of office, administered by the Lord President, Lord Carloway.