Alex Salmond has now finished assembling his government. There are two main differences with its predecessor. The new one is slightly larger, with 10 Cabinet Secretaries instead of seven, largely due to promotions of existing ministers. Fiona Hyslop, Alex Neil and Bruce Crawford all become Cabinet Secretaries, largely with expansions of their previous roles. Equally, the existing Cabinet Secretaries keep their existing portfolios, with some adjustments. The one that has changed most is that of Alex Neil, formerly Minister for Housing and Communities and now Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, with an emphasis on regeneration. Nicola Sturgeon gets responsibility for ‘cities’ as part of her health portfolio, and John Swinney that for employment to go with finance. All this rather looks as though it is filling a Jim Mather-sized gap, though Fergus Ewing will be the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism.
The new entrants to government are at junior ranks: the return of Stewart Stevenson as Minister for Environment and Climate Change (after being forced to stand down due to the problems snowfall caused for transport last winter), and the arrival of Michael Matheson as Minister for Public Health, Aileen Campbell as Minister for Local Government and Planning, Alasdair Allan as Minister for Learning and Skills, and Brian Adam as Chief Whip and Minister for Parliamentary Business. Adam Ingram is the only Minister to leave the government (with generous tributes from the First Minister). There are various other changes in the responsibilities of the junior ministers.
There is also a new Lord Advocate (Frank Mulholland, promoted from being Solicitor General), and a new Solicitor General (Lesley Thomson).
The new structure may introduce a degree of tension into how ministerial relations work. There’s a considerable overlap between Alex Neil’s role for capital spending and the ‘cities’ element of Nicola Sturgeon’s with John Swinney’s financial responsibilities. As regards Neil, although he has evidently succeeded in becoming part of the ‘new’ SNP, his past personal and political differences with Swinney and other prominent figures can’t be overlooked as a possible source of internal tension as well. All this involves decisions about the spending of money and priorities in doing so. And of course spending cuts are going to hit in the coming months and years, making money scarcer and decisions about its use tougher. Whether the government will be able to manage those tensions as effectively as it did between 2007 and 2011 remains to be seen.