20 May 2011

Yes (Scottish) Minister: Episode 1...

"Atten-shun! Do swear as medical duty, the following ministers - fit to serve. Or at least. Um. Appointit..."

Scottish Ministers...

Alex Salmond: First Minister

Nicola Sturgeon: Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Cities Strategy
  • Shona Robison: Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport
  • Michael Matheson: Minister for Public Health 

John Swinney: Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth
  • Fergus Ewing: Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism
  • Aileen Campbell: Minister for Local Government and Planning

Michael Russell: Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning
  • Angela Constance: Minister for Children and Young People
  • Alasdair Allan: Minister for Learning and Skills (with responsibility for Gaelic and Scots)

Bruce Crawford: Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business and Government Strategy
  • Brian Adam: Minister for Parliamentary Business and Chief Whip

Kenny MacAskill: Cabinet Secretary for Justice
  • Roseanna Cunningham: Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs (with responsibility for tackling sectarianism)

Richard Lochhead: Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment
  • Stewart Stevenson: Minister for Environment and Climate Change

Fiona Hyslop: Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs

Alex Neil: Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment
  • Keith Brown: Minister for Housing and Transport

Law Officers...

Frank Mulholland: Lord Advocate
  • Lesley Thomson: Solicitor General

There we have it. The final ministerial team. Plenty of talented folk there and a great deal of continuity across the top tier, with the elevation of that old pickle-faced pugilist Alex Neil probably prompting the most comment. Just a few, brief thoughts. It may have been Beaker's midwinter, but you'll see Alex Salmond has thawed out his old crony Stewart Stevenson as Minister for Environment and Climate Change, thereby depriving the Banff and Buchanshire MSP of time he could have otherwise have devoted to recreational flying. According to my network of peat worrying informants, Roseanna Cunningham didn't prove much of a hit in her previous role dealing with the Environment and Climate Change, although this may simply reflect on the calibre of the chap she replaced. Pat Kane memorably sketched his impressions of Michael Russell, who keeps his Cabinet education role, in a Caledonian Mercury column a while back. Kane said...

"Let your eyes film over, and you can see him in gaiters and periwig holding forth in an 18th century coffee-house, or perhaps in pith-helmet and wire spectacles lieutenanting some still-red section of the World Atlas."

'Mon the perukes! But I digress. Perhaps a more legally-oriented brief, more consonant with Roseanna's background will better serve her capacities (she qualified in Scots Law and as an advocate before entering politics). It would be remiss of me not to mention, in the context of imminent (and in my view potentially exceedingly unwelcome) legislation criminalising online sectarianism, that it may not be coincidental that Salmond has chosen to appoint a weel-kent and devoted Roman Catholic with a specific remit over this aspect of the broad justice portfolio. Fergus Ewing, himself another tidy old legalist, shuffles out from under Kenny MacAskill, to cabal with John Swinney as Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism. 

I confess, I was a little disappointed to see Frank Mulholland QC appointed Lord Advocate to replace Elish Angiolini, not least because it was terrifically predictable. More substantially, in my limited experience of the fellow, he gave what was (in my view) rather unhelpful advice to the ad hoc parliamentary Committee which scrutinised Margo MacDonald's Assisted Dying Bill in the last session. Obviously, responsibility for failing to ask the needling questions must lie with parliamentarians, rather than the Solicitor-General as Mulholland was, but it wasn't a particularly impressive showing from the man who now not only heads up the Scottish prosecution service, but must advise the Scottish Government on matters legal, well outside Mulholland's more narrow criminal specialisms.  My erstwhile lecturer from my days in Edinburgh Law School, Robert Black QC, has expressed his own qualms, arguing on his Lockerbie Case blog...

"This appointment is not unexpected, but it is to be regretted. Virtually the whole of Frank Mulholland's career has been spent as a Crown Office civil servant. This is not, in my view, the right background for the incumbent of the office of Lord Advocate, one of whose functions has traditionally been to bring an outsider's perspective to the operations and policy-making of the department. Sir Humphrey Appleby was an outstanding civil servant of a particular kind, but his role was an entirely different one from that of Jim Hacker and no-one would have regarded it as appropriate that he should be translated from Permanent Secretary of the Department of Administrative Affairs to Minister (or, indeed, from Secretary of the Cabinet to Prime Minister)."

Caveats despite, I wish all of the newly appointed ministers well in their respective roles, particularly those entering office for the first time. By my reckoning, the SNP's Aileen Campbell, elected for Clydesdale, must be the youngest-ever second youngest Scottish Minister to take office since devolution*, appointed today in her tender years, aged only 31.

*Shortly after publishing this, my late-week addled mental fibres were tested by trying to deduce whether Labour's Alasdair Morrison, who was made a Deputy Minister in Donald Dewar's first Executive, actually snatches the youthful garland from Campbell's head. Some strangulated elementary mathematics reveals that Morrison was aged only 30 when he was appointed Deputy Minister for the Highlands and Islands and Gaelic in 1999, confirmed by the Executive's press release of the day. Since Aileen is definitely aged 31, albeit only celebrating her birthday a few days ago, I erred by initially identifying her as Holyrood's youngest ever Minister. Apologies and thanks to Bright Green's Peter McColl, for helping me finally to muddle through to the correct answer!

33 comments :

  1. I think your reckoning would be right... but not by as much as most folk might think.

    Alasdair Morrison was also only 31 when he was Deputy Minister for Highlands and Islands and Gaelic and then Deputy Minister for Enterprise & Lifelong Learning and Gaelic from 1999-2001. But he was 31 and 6 months, whereas Aileen was 31 and 2 days when she was appointed.

    Geek alert.

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  2. Elish was Catholic enough, but not nationalist wenough....

    Funny old worls...

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  3. and they have been scanting to replace her for four years....

    not as nat, not a Scot...

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  4. Heh. You and Peter McColl of Bright Green. Geeks from the same "pod", if that is where such knowledgeable creatures are grown! However, on his reckoning, we're both wrong. Morrison being born in November 1968 means he was only thirty when appointed to "high office" in May 1999. The Executive press release of the time confirms it too. Oops. *blames his frayed mental fibres on a busy week...*

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  5. I'll just blame the fact that my maths is appalling. So yes - had a feeling he was younger, then I looked it up, and figured it wrongly... Oops.

    Indeed. Still, Aileen is a young minister, was your point!

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  6. Malc,

    Quite so! *draws a discreet veil over the whole discrediting cannae count for toffee muck-up*

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  7. Braveheart,

    Unless you have some persuasive data which isn't in the public domain, I can't say that I find your comments about Elish Angiolini terrifically plausible. If the Nationalists had wished to replace her with a Lord Advocate of their own (as has been the ordinary practice in the past, when the government changes), this could have been easily and uncontroversially done in 2007. No pretext or jiggery-pokery required. Moreover, I understand that Angiolini determined on her own motion to relinquish the position. If she had not done so of her own volition, it is difficult to imagine Alex Salmond forcing her out, nor indeed what cause he might have for doing so.

    I'm struggling to understand the cogency of your position.

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  8. Was she "forced out"?

    All I know is that Eck would have sacked her 4 years ago if he had the chance and the courage. But he couldn't get rid of her earlier because it would have looked too vindictive.

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  9. Braveheart,

    I'm sorry, but that's total nonsense. Let's take a little wander down memory lane. Before devolution, the Lord Advocate was clearly a political appointment. For example, at the start of 1997, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon was the Tory Lord Advocate, replaced by Andrew Hardie directly after the election. Go further back in time. The Lord Advocate of Callaghan's day was Ronald Murray, an active Labour politician, replaced by Lord Mackay of Clashfern (as he is now) by Maggie Thatcher. After devolution, Colin Boyd was the Lord Advocate for around six years. He now sits as a Labour peer in the House of Lords.

    The Lord Advocate changing after an election where the party of government changes is the rule in modern history - Elish Angiolini being retained by the SNP after 2007 a stark, even glaring exception. If he had wished to, Salmond clearly had the chance to replace her. You may speculate about why he did not, however, your "vindictiveness" thesis really won't bear any scrutiny.

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  10. Hands up... you're dead right LPW. My knee-jerk reaction about nationalist perfidy was wrong... for once.

    My wife (source of all wisdom) tells me that Angiolini put in her notice months ago.....


    Aplogies and hope to get it right next time...

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  11. Braveheart,

    Fair play to you. A salutary lesson, perhaps, that your fevered suspicions of the SNP are hypochondriacal symptoms...?

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  12. Right, going to have another go at my earlier question, but this time (if Blogger is still being naughty) I'll keep it mercifully (ho ho) brief.

    Let me put it to you that the evidence on penal policy points to a mixed approach with both liberal and conservative elements. On the one hand, it's clear that short prison sentences for less serious offenders are not helping. Thus we should send fewer people to prison and deal with those whose characters can still be positively formed in other ways; there seems to be something of an emerging consensus on this. However, my reading of the evidence is that longer prison sentences are also necessary for those most serious and violent offenders. Let us take the case of a violent criminal who currently spends a year in jail (leaving aside the question of early release for just now). Were he to spend two instead, all other factors remaining equal, is it not the case that we could better engage him in a meaningful course of rehabilitation and so reduce his chance of reoffending once outside (while also, obviously, protecting the public from him for longer)? Does the evidence not suggest that these programmes are more effective the longer prisoners are involved in them, and wouldn't this lengthening of his term therefore be in his interest as well as ours? Wouldn't it therefore be sensible to reserve prison only for those worst offenders, but to keep them inside for longer, thus treating them more effectively and so reducing their likelihood of recidivism — or is my reasoning dodgy? (By the way, I'm not proposing some arbitrary doubling of all sentences — merely taking that as a simple example.)

    One final point: economists, if they are agreed on anything, are agreed that people respond to incentives. If prison has no deterrent effect, this must mean that all criminals are irrational. Is this your view, or is it perhaps the case that prison is not that much worse than the life most criminals have on the outside, and so they're not behaving irrationally at all?

    As ever, your wisdom much appreciated.

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  13. Braveheart is a Labour councillor (from Falkirk if memory seves).

    Snipe, snide, spin and soil.

    It's the Brit nat way.

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  14. LPW, my "fevered suspicion of the SNP", as you call it, is that they want to destroy a partnership which works perfectly well, and for no good reason that they are able to explain in any depths beyond not very subtle variations on the theme of "FREE-DUM!!!".

    You're stuff is all very well and entertaining, and you are probably ten times more articulate than your average nat, (for median effort see Natha above) but even you don't touch very much on independence either, never mind explain why we should waste our time and energy on pursuing it.

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  15. An Duine Gruamach21 May 2011 20:26

    It's odd, but even with my poor hearing I don't think I could confuse "it would be better to be able to set our own priorities and hold more directly accountable those tasked with fulfilling them, cut out the need for our politics to reflect the priorities of the City and take more responsibility for our own affairs" for "FREE-DUM!!!"

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  16. An etc. It's interesting that you help to make my case... we already are "..able to set our own priorities and hold ... directly accountable those tasked with fulfilling them..", and "independence" would add nothing to that ability....

    As for "...cut out the need for our politics to reflect the priorities of the City and take more responsibility for our own affairs,...", one would have to be a master of irony to believe you meant that, and at the same time knew what you were talking about.

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  17. I know, I know, I shouldn't rise to the troll, but it sems to me that independence would be a very good way of getting rid of Trident and keeping out of illegal wars. Once upon a time one might credibly have believed that independence was not necessary for this, and that the election of a Labour government with thumping majorities might have done the trick. Well, ye ken noo!

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  18. Still looking forward to your answer, but in the mean time here's a paragraph from today's Sunday Times which I would broadly go along with —

    "The debate between liberals and conservatives on penal policy has become sterile. The British public are not the vengeful mob portrayed by reformers and the Guardian. Certainly, they want criminals punished, but they also desire their rehabilitation. With some justification, however, they despair of the state's competence. Many of us agree that there are too many people in prison, but we reserve the right to pick and choose who goes inside. The mentally ill, drug addicts and foreign prisoners don't belong there: but the man who attacked our sister or daughter certainly does. We would like to let out young offenders, too, but have to face the facts that under current supervision regimes too often they immediately reoffend. This cries out for leadership."

    I'm not quite sure where foreign prisoners should be instead, and I would add the proviso that there is a section of the British public that clearly is a vengeful mob, but other than that it seems a reasonable stab (if you will) at the sort of mixed, hopeful-yet-sceptical approach I suggested earlier.

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  19. @An Firinn, a troll is not "someone who disagrees with you"...

    In fact it could be said with a lot of accuracy that someone who thinks that "someone who disagrees with you" is a troll, is a troll.

    That's you.... in case you miss the point...

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  20. Braveheart,

    That sounds like a challenge! *gives the gauntlet a squeeze and gallops off to think about it*

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  21. I am not sure if Braveheart’s meanderings are a sign of what is to come from the grand unionist alliance or if they are just personal meanderings.

    But of course independence – when you blow away the froth – is quite simple and has nothing to do with Australian film actors shouting freedom.

    Do you think that the Scottish Parliament should take over all the policy areas currently controlled by Westminster or do you think we should leave the UK Government with the ultimate power over Scotland?

    My answer is that I think the Scottish Parliament should have full powers over Scotland. A Scottish Parliament and Government will inevitably make a better job of it than Westminster because they will be elected by the Scottish people and only the Scottish people and will be accountable to the Scottish people and only the Scottish people.

    The question for unionists is why do you want Westminster to continue to have the final say?

    It’s nothing to do with a “partnership”. A partnership implies a relationship of two equals. Scotland is not an equal partner in the UK. No-one could seriously argue that is the case so the whole “partnership” argument is just spin.

    When we are independent we can, of course, easily work in partnership with the rest of the UK in areas where we share common interests and objectives. Just as the Scandinavian countries do. But to be an equal partner we have to be independent.

    That is what we are now asking the Scottish people to consider. If the last election should have taught Labour anything it is that scaremongering about independence doesn’t scare people any more. If you want Scotland to remain part of the UK with Westminster exercising the final say over us you would be better off explaining why you think that is better for Scots than home rule.

    I am saying that with my tongue in my cheek of course. What I really want to hear is more scaremongering about how we won’t be able to watch Eastenders and Coronation St any more with independence, how our economy will collapse and people will end up begging in the streets and how we will no longer be able to visit our friends and family down south without having to traverse a giant trench filled with boiling oil and guarded by woad painted savages.

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  22. So we WILL still be able to watch Eastenders and Coronation St after independence? Hmmm, I'm not sure it's worth it after all then...

    ;-)

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  23. Indy,

    I was talking to a friend of mine in these parts yesterday. He is a reflexively pro-Union Scot from the central belt, presently living in England. He commented (more or less), very much along the lines you discussed...

    "If you ask me if I'm pro-Scots independence, I'd haver. Frame the issue as ~ 'do you think David Cameron should have power of decision over issue x y or z, or do you think Holyrood would be able to take decisions on x y or z, and do so more faithfully to your own political views than if left to Westminster?' - and I'd enthusiastically support more powers for Scotland."

    This is not, I think, an isolated or idiosyncratic perspective. Indeed, he recognised that the practical endpoint of such a perspective may be voting "yes" in the independence referendum, despite his initial qualms - but like many, wants to think about it. As you say, it is a simple proposition in many respects - froth blown away - but if the debate ends up framed in these terms, the Union is stuffed. A rather good reason, therefore, to push that 'problematisation'...

    Philosophical Zombie,

    You old snob! That my own sympathies tend in the same direction, I shall quietly ignore...

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  24. Indy, a lot of words to say very little, and this gem ...

    "A Scottish Parliament and Government will inevitably make a better job of it than Westminster because they will be elected by the Scottish people and only the Scottish people and will be accountable to the Scottish people and only the Scottish people."

    ... is obviously a serious contender for a prize in the world non-sequiteur championships....

    ..isn't it....?

    ..or do you think it means sonmething...?

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  25. That Braveheart believes the union works "perfectly" tells me all I need to know. Nothing is perfect and anyone who thinks anything is perfect must be a perfect fool.

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  26. "If you ask me if I'm pro-Scots independence, I'd haver. Frame the issue as ~ 'do you think David Cameron should have power of decision over issue x y or z, or do you think Holyrood would be able to take decisions on x y or z, and do so more faithfully to your own political views than if left to Westminster?' - and I'd enthusiastically support more powers for Scotland."


    So you want to be "independent" for as long as DC is PM...? And then..?

    You'll have to do better than that ...

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  27. @holebender I didn't say "perfectly", but "perfectly well". There is a distinction, as you are perfectly well aware.

    Just as my tv or washing machine works perfectly well (without being "perfect" whatever that means).

    Anyway, I take it that your rejection of imperfection means you are under the delusion that "independence", if it comes, will be "perfect"...?

    Come on....

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  28. @Indy "..When we are independent we can, of course, easily work in partnership with the rest of the UK..."

    Again, illogical. If Scotland isn't an equal partner within the UK (as you say), how can it be an equal partner outside the UK?

    "When we are independent we can, of course, easily work in partnership with the rest of the UK".

    In which case, why not work in partnership in the existing relationship without the hassle of destroying a partnership which works perfectly well...?

    "When we are independent we can, of course, easily work in partnership with the rest of the UK "

    "We" are already "independent".

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  29. @Indy "If the last election should have taught Labour anything it is that scaremongering about independence doesn’t scare people any more. "

    Wrong again...

    The Scottish election contained virtually no focus on "independence". Labour started by suggesting that the SNP couldn't beat the Tories and only started to attack the SNP very late in the day.

    Needless to say, the SNP didn't mention "independence" at all, in the interests, presumably, of not frightening the horses (which means they disagree with your point above, as I do).

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  30. @Indy "What I really want to hear is more scaremongering about how we won’t be able to watch Eastenders and Coronation St any more ..."

    Not a chance. In fact the latest soft soap is that we will have the British Pound and the British Army and the British Navy and the British Air Force and the British Crown and the British National Grid and the BBC and the UK Coastguard Service and the UK Immigration Service and godknowswhatelse....

    ..not to mention all the other stuff that Europe would impose on an "independent" Scotland.

    Indy, if you believe in "independence", you ain't gonna get it from Eck...

    "What I really want to hear is more scaremongering about how ... our economy will collapse..."

    It's difficult to predict the future, but the past is much easier... like the last few years when the Scottish banks collapsed and had to be rescued by the strength of the 65 million UK population and would have bankrupted an "independent" Scotland with only 5 million people...

    Just one example. There are others. It is undeniable that there would be an adverse economic impact. How deep or long is open to question, but Ireland took 70 years (and a lot of EU dosh) to get anywhere... then it atracted Eck in and fooled him with the gloss and then it collapsed again...

    I wouldn't want that for my people...but then, I'm not a nat...

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  31. Apologies for the flourish of postings.... bloggerand/or my account are having oproblems this last few days.

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  32. LPW "That sounds like a challenge! *gives the gauntlet a squeeze and gallops off to think about it*
    "

    Braveheart: Waits. Waits some more. Twiddles thumbs (not being posh enough to own, let alone squeeze, gauntlets. As for a horse.....)...

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  33. Braveheart,

    On "So you want to be "independent" for as long as DC is PM...? And then..?

    You'll have to do better than that ..."


    You'll notice it was a crony of mine who felt that way about extra powers. As a result, I wouldn't care to put words in his mouth. For my part, however, I imagine Cameron will play an unavoidable role in some people's calculations. He emblematises the wider point, about being able to choose one's own direction, or being part of a wider polity whose political convictions may differ substantial from yours. I fail to see what is problematic about that.

    On "Waits. Waits some more. Twiddles thumbs (not being posh enough to own, let alone squeeze, gauntlets. As for a horse.....)...", if I was being mischievous, I'd point out that your argument strikes just as sharply in the other direction. You suggest I pay too little mind and ream off too few words on independence. For a chap who claims that his primary interests lie elsewhere, apart from constitutional wrangles, you seem to talk of little else.

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