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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament 25 January 2022

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Junior Minister, Transvaginal Mesh Removal (Cost Reimbursement) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Transvaginal Mesh Removal (Cost Reimbursement) (Scotland) Bill, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Point of Order, My Breath is My Life


Contents


Junior Minister

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-02926, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the appointment of a junior Scottish minister. I invite the First Minister to move the motion. I will then invite each party to make a short contribution. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button or enter R in the chat function.

15:21  

I rise to move the motion in my name that

“Neil Gray be appointed as a junior Scottish Minister.”

First, however, I pay tribute to the minister who is departing the Scottish Government. During his four years as a member of my Government, Graeme Dey has performed excellently in very demanding roles.

In a period of minority Government, he built trust and constructive relationships with all the other parties. He worked with Parliament to adapt to the early demands of the pandemic, ensuring that members could continue to scrutinise and hold Government to account. His skills also helped to ensure that, as a minority Government, we were able to deliver on key legislation for the country.

Graeme also served as veterans minister. I know how much that meant to him, and I am sure that he will continue to be a strong advocate for our veterans from the back benches.

As transport minister, Graeme’s significant achievements will leave a lasting legacy. He has not only set out a strong plan to reduce car use to help meet climate targets, he has delivered concessionary bus travel for under-22s and laid the groundwork for Scotland’s publicly owned railway company.

Graeme leaves Government with many achievements of which to be proud. He also leaves with my very best wishes and, I am sure, the best wishes of everyone in the chamber. [Applause.]

I have asked Jenny Gilruth to take on the role of transport minister. As Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, Jenny has worked hard and well to preserve close links with our friends in Europe during the Brexit transition period. She has also worked to maintain our international development programmes and to support the culture sector during the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.

In her new role, Jenny will play a critical part in our national efforts to become net zero by 2045. Of course, as the MSP for Mid Fife and Glenrothes, which sits between the Forth and Tay bridges, she understands very well the vital importance of our national transport infrastructure—indeed, she played a key part in securing the Levenmouth rail link for her constituents. I am sure that is a service that she is looking forward to using.

Those changes have left a vacancy in the ministerial team. I am therefore delighted to nominate Neil Gray to replace Jenny Gilruth as Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development. Neil, of course, served as an MP at Westminster for a number of years before being elected as a member of the Scottish Parliament in last May’s Scottish election. In both roles, Neil has been a long-standing supporter of Scotland’s relationship with Malawi.

More recently, as deputy convener of the Scottish National Party’s Social Justice and Fairness Commission, and then as convener of the Scottish Parliament Social Justice and Social Security Committee, Neil has proven his ability to navigate complex and often sensitive issues, ensuring that competing points of view are listened to carefully, and helping bring people together to build consensus.

Those are all skills that will serve Neil Gray well in Government. In my estimation, he is highly able, and I have no doubt that he will be a strong asset to my Government. I know that Neil cannot wait to get formally started as a minister. As he does so, I know that everyone in the chamber will wish him the very best of luck. With those comments, it gives me great pleasure to move the motion.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that Neil Gray be appointed as a junior Scottish Minister.

15:25  

On behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, I thank Graeme Dey for his service in Government. He brings a rather rare quality to Government, which is a general bonhomie and a sense of humour. He never knowingly did not assiduously promote the cause of his party, but he was a wily performer. That was demonstrated in a recent debate that I was engaged in with him on the East Kilbride railway line, in which he was quick to suggest that I should write to him about a potential extension to that line through my constituency. I realise that that was because he knew that he would be away before the letter arrived.

I congratulate Jenny Gilruth on her subsequent appointment. I do not think that anyone could pay more effusive tribute to her than her partner Kezia Dugdale did on Twitter. Therefore, I simply direct the chamber to those comments, happily endorse them, and wish Jenny Gilruth well with her new responsibilities.

I met Neil Gray for the first time in the House of Commons when I was attending a mesh event with Alex Neil, his predecessor. I had a convivial supper with him and his colleagues Mhairi Black and Chris Law, which caused some consternation among the Conservative whips at the time. Alex Neil was quick to tell me that Neil Gray was a talent to watch. As I recall, Mr Gray agreed and told me that he expected to be fast tracked to ministerial office fairly quickly, so he is clearly a man who is as good as his word.

From the conversations that I have had with him, I think that Neil Gray is bright and able but I caution him not always to rush in. Just 48 hours before the First Minister made a speech at the start of the year on how Scotland would have to learn to live with the virus, Mr Gray tweeted

“Learning to live with the virus is still code for being willing to let many of your fellow citizens suffer hospitalisation or death.”

That is quite a challenge to the First Minister’s integrity and common sense, but I am sure that it will be overlooked. My only advice to him in future would be to be slightly less brave.

I wish Mr Gray well in his new responsibilities and assure him that the letter that was going to Mr Dey will now be coming to him. I have no idea whether it will get a more favourable response, but we happily support the nomination made by the First Minister.

15:27  

First, I pass on the best wishes of the Scottish Labour Party to Graeme Dey, who has resigned as Minister for Transport. We recognise his service in that role and as Minister for Parliamentary Business and hope that he has a speedy recovery.

I welcome Neil Gray to his appointment as a junior minister—Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development. He brings experience from his time as an MP and as an MSP. I recognise that he had the courage of his convictions to resign his seat in the House of Commons in order to be elected here. That shows character and principle that will stand him in good stead for his new role.

I understand that he also worked for Alex Neil. I think that I speak for all Opposition members when I say that we hope that Alex’s rebellious tendencies have rubbed off on Mr Gray. On that note, now that Mr Gray has been appointed as the minister for Europe, it would be interesting to know whether he voted the same way as Mr Neil in the Brexit referendum.

We wish Mr Gray well in his new role. The culture sector—our venues, staff, artists and musicians—has been under huge pressure as a result of the pandemic and it needs our support now. Scottish Labour also commits to working with the minister to ensure that the Covid vaccine is rolled out in the developing world. Not only is there a moral imperative to do so, but we are not safe until everyone is safe.

I also congratulate Jenny Gilruth on her appointment as Minister for Transport and wish her well in her new role. I recognise her leadership in the Levenmouth rail campaign. This is an opportunity for a change of approach on transport. We hope that a new transport minister will bring a new way of thinking and a fresh perspective, which is badly needed.

There is a big job ahead for Ms Gilruth and big questions to answer. For example: will the new transport minister stop the ScotRail cuts to services and booking offices? How will the ferries fiasco be fixed? What will be done to support the creation of locally run bus services? When will we finally see delivery on the First Minister’s promise of a national smart ticketing card?

Scottish Labour looks forward to working with the new transport minister on all those issues.

We have previously raised concerns about the number of ministers in Government and the associated cost to the taxpayer. Those concerns still stand, but let me be clear that they are not a personal reflection on the ministers who are being appointed today. Those are serious issues and these are serious times for the country, so, whoever takes on the responsibility of Government, we wish them well. We therefore wish Neil Gray and Jenny Gilruth the very best and every success in their new roles.

15:30  

I echo the sentiments that have been expressed about Graeme Dey. Graeme has the rare quality in Parliament of being able to reach out to members across the aisle and in all corners of the chamber. He always greets people with a warmth and decency that is all too uncommon in Scottish politics. I salute his difficult decision to step down. Self-care and staying well often play second fiddle to the work that we do in the Parliament and in the halls of Government. I recognise the immense contribution that he has made during his time in government and I thank him for his work. I look forward to seeing what comes next for him.

Jenny Gilruth, who, according to her mum, has far more affection for Willie Rennie than her boss evidently does, given the tenor of the previous statement, moves to the transport brief, which can be the graveyard of careers. However, it can also be the springboard to Cabinet office and I strongly expect that it will be the latter for Jenny. We both went to Madras College—people do not know that about us—so we are alumni of that august St Andrews institution. Sadly, Jenny is far more successful than I am, so she keeps being invited back there—wish them well for me the next time that you are there, Jenny.

I congratulate Neil Gray, who the Liberal Democrats will today claim as one of ours, given that he was born in Orkney. We welcome him to his ministerial office. I had heard about Neil long before I met him, which means that his meteoric rise to office is unsurprising. I wish him well. His brief has become a difficult one, not least given the impact of the pandemic on the cultural sector. There is a lot of pain and hurt out there, which I hope that he will salve. The brief has also become difficult in respect to Scotland’s commitments to Malawi, not least since the Conservative Government cut the international aid budget and the plight of that nation and nations like it have become all the more difficult.

I wish the ministers well and congratulate them.

The question is, that motion S6M-02926, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the appointment of a junior Scottish minister, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that Neil Gray be appointed as a junior Scottish Minister. [Applause.]