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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 18 February 2020

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Social Prescribing, Minister and Junior Minister, Decision Time, Gaelic-medium Education (Western Isles)


Contents


Minister and Junior Minister

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a debate on motions S5M-20875 and S5M-20874, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the appointment of a Scottish minister and a junior Scottish minister. Members should note that the questions on the motions will be put immediately after the debate. I will invite the First Minister to move the motions and will then invite party representatives to make short contributions.

16:46  

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I am very pleased to move the motions in my name that seek Parliament’s approval that Kate Forbes be appointed as a Scottish minister, and that Jenny Gilruth be appointed as a Scottish junior minister.

Those new appointments come at an important time for Scotland. The underlying strength of our economy is sound, but we face enormous uncertainty around the United Kingdom’s future trading relationship with the European Union. We must also adapt to the challenges of population growth and of ending our contribution to climate change. It is vital that the Scottish Government works to maximise Scotland’s economic potential, both at home and beyond our shores. The new finance and economy team is tasked with doing exactly that.

I turn first to the Scottish Cabinet. During her time as Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, Kate Forbes has demonstrated that she has a forensic grasp of detail. She has been widely and rightly praised for stepping in and calmly delivering the Scottish budget so ably at short notice, and in circumstances that we would not have chosen. In the SNP, we have always known about the talent that we have in Kate Forbes, but with budget negotiations on-going, I am sure that members across the chamber are already recognising that, in Kate, they will have a capable and approachable Cabinet Secretary for Finance who will listen carefully to their suggestions in the coming weeks and in the longer term.

Fiona Hyslop will become Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture. Fiona is rightly held in high regard by politicians and diplomats in European capitals and further afield. The level of goodwill that is shown to Scotland across the EU, particularly in recent times, did not happen by accident: it is in no small part down to Fiona’s skill, commitment and hard work. She will now turn her efforts to bringing people together and promoting Scotland’s strengths closer to home, by working closely and collaboratively with the business community and trade unions to strengthen sustainable economic growth. She will also drive forward the government’s fair work agenda and retain her responsibility for culture.

Michael Russell becomes Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs. Having fought Scotland’s corner during the Brexit negotiations over the past few years, which he will continue to do, Michael will also take on the task of building our European and international relations in the post-Brexit environment.

Last, but by no means least, Fergus Ewing has been Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, and will now add tourism to his existing responsibilities.

I turn now to the junior ministerial team. I am delighted to nominate Jenny Gilruth, who will—subject, of course, to Parliament’s agreement—take on the role of Minister for Europe and International Development. Jenny has used her experience as a teacher to inform, for the better, many a debate in Parliament, and she has also been—I am sure that she will continue to be—a true champion of her constituency. She will support Michael Russell in the enhanced engagement with Europe that is now required, and will ensure that we, in Scotland, play our part in building the fairer world that we all want.

Meanwhile, as the new Minister for Public Finance and Migration, Ben Macpherson will build on his excellent work on developing our Scottish visa proposal. The link between our population, our economy and our future finances is of course vital, and I have no doubt that Ben will continue to make the case loudly and clearly for Scotland’s unique migration needs. He will also work across Government to help to secure funding to tackle the climate emergency and ensure that wellbeing sits at the heart of our budget process.

The appointments for which I seek Parliament’s agreement demonstrate breadth and depth of talent. I know that the new team is very much looking forward to getting started, so it gives me enormous pleasure to move both motions in my name.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that Kate Forbes be appointed as a Minister.

That the Parliament agrees that Jenny Gilruth be appointed as a junior Scottish Minister.

16:51  

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

This is my first opportunity to contribute to a ministerial movement debate. As the First Minister said, it is fair to say that the circumstances that occasioned the changes are not what any of us would have chosen, and there are difficult decisions to be made as a consequence. However, we are where we are, and I congratulate the First Minister on her choices.

I am sure that she is sufficiently confident in her abilities not to have to submit her thoughts and those of her advisers to a Holyrood committee, but perhaps her colleague Ian Blackford did not get that memo.

We welcome the appointment of Jenny Gilruth to the post of Minister for Europe and International Development. Her strong presence on the Justice Committee leads me to conclude that she will do a good job in representing her portfolio. I am sure that she will appreciate the irony that, in the context of budget cuts to practically every aspect of Government responsibility, her department’s budget is being increased by about £2 million to £25 million—although, of course, the matters in her portfolio remain reserved.

By splitting responsibility for the budget from responsibility for growing the economy, Fiona Hyslop adds economy and fair work to her culture secretary role. I agree with the First Minister that Fiona Hyslop is an impressive performer, and she will no doubt welcome the new responsibility. However, given that Scottish gross domestic product has flatlined for a decade, that the employment rate trails that of the UK, and that productivity is stalling, it is fair to say that she will have her work cut out.

Finally, of course, Kate Forbes is confirmed as finance secretary. The First Minister said that she was pleased to be able to put Scotland’s finances and economy in the hands of two incredibly talented colleagues, and there is no doubt that Kate Forbes has stood out since her election in 2016. However, she faces some considerable challenges, with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities flagging the impact of cuts to core local government budgets of £95 million and, of course, the police flagging that they face an unsustainable financial deficit. Nonetheless, I welcome Kate Forbes’s fresh approach and was genuinely delighted to read that she dislikes her colleagues’ obsession with blaming Brexit and Westminster. That willingness for a major Scottish National Party Government figure to take responsibility for devolved issues is as welcome as it is novel.

So, we support the appointments, but l respectfully suggest to the new ministers that they enjoy their time in the spotlight and take full advantage of the opportunity, because, from May 2021, I fully expect the seats that they now occupy to be filled by members who are sat behind me right now.

16:53  

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I welcome Kate Forbes and Jenny Gilruth to their new posts, and Fiona Hyslop, Michael Russell and Fergus Ewing to their changed posts. I wish them well.

I want to focus my comments on Kate Forbes, who delivered the budget statement in trying circumstances, and rose to the task at short notice. Doing so led to comment—some of which was congratulatory, but much of which was condescending and sexist, although it was dressed up as praise. I hope that that does not continue, because it is not strange for a woman to be finance secretary.

However, there are challenges ahead for her. She delivered someone else’s draft budget, and she only has two short weeks to make it her own. I will meet her tomorrow and will offer our support to change the budget into one that invests in the future of Scotland—a budget that tackles climate change and protects local services; that gives young people the same freedom to travel as their grandparents enjoy; that allows people to remain at home while receiving the health and community care that they need; and that ensures that our population is equipped with the skills to build our economy.

Those are modest requests, and I hope that Kate Forbes will make them her own and will join us to invest in Scotland’s future.

16:55  

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

Two weeks ago, we were expecting a Scottish cabinet secretary for finance to present a budget and complain about the uncertainty that had been created by the UK chancellor. I do not think that any of us expected both those people to be gone before we debated the budget. Nobody would have predicted those circumstances—one as a result of scandal, the other as a result of a power grab by a Prime Minister and his senior adviser. Even after those resignations, though, I do not think that any of us could have imagined that that same senior adviser would raise the bar on ill-judged political appointments to such a high level. By comparison with that shambles, the appointments that we consider today were always bound to be relatively consensual.

It makes sense to me to unite the constitution, Europe and external affairs portfolios under a single team, in relation to not just trying to prevent the harm of Brexit domestically, but projecting Scotland’s place as a European country externally. Just yesterday, I visited a business that has seen a huge drop-off in its customers from EU member states—and there will be people in every constituency and region who are experiencing the same thing. Jenny Gilruth and Mike Russell will have to proactively project Scotland’s place as a proudly European country to the rest of the European Union, and Ben Macpherson’s role in advocating for an open, welcoming and generous approach to migration will be critical in that regard.

Fiona Hyslop will take on the fair work agenda. There has been good progress on that, but it needs to be built on with much more. We look forward to bringing constructive pressure to bear on her on the fair work agenda.

Kate Forbes, of course, has the toughest job in the immediate weeks ahead. In presenting the budget, if she is to build the political agreement that her predecessor did not build before he left office, she will need to recognise that her job is not just to challenge Opposition parties to accept the Cabinet’s position but to challenge the Cabinet to accept the political reality and the need for compromise.

Kate Forbes and Jenny Gilruth—the two new appointments—are clearly both bright, capable and articulate people. Whatever political disagreements we have, we should all want Cabinet and ministerial office to be held by bright, capable and articulate people.

While Dominic Cummings scurries back to the murky corners of the eugenics subreddits to go talent hunting for the UK Government, let us celebrate the fact that we hold ourselves to a slightly higher standard, and congratulate the new appointees and wish them well in their work.

16:57  

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

It gives me great pleasure to respond on behalf of the Liberal Democrats to today’s ministerial reshuffle. Time is short, so after congratulating those who are already in government and have been moved to new challenges in this Administration, I will use my time to welcome the two talented promotions from the class of 2016.

Kate Forbes, a native Gael, is liked across the chamber and is well received on any subject and in any language. It was clear from the start that she, of all the 2016 intake, was destined for greatness. That was evident when she passed her first trial by fire, just a day before she stepped in to deliver the budget, in that crucible of parliamentary intrigue that was the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill. She single-handedly reduced support for devolving control of business rates to our councils to just 10 votes—down from the majority that was against her at the committee. She will need those snake-charming abilities as we enter the budget negotiations.

Jenny Gilruth broke the internet last year, when, as part of an on-line event, she revealed to the world how she had come out to her mother as gay. She revealed that she had told the story in stages and that the first piece of information that she had given her mother was that the person with whom she was in a relationship was a political party leader. Of course, her mother naturally assumed that she meant Willie Rennie. [Laughter.] She could do a lot worse than Willie Rennie.

Given the energy with which Jenny has fought for European citizens in Scotland, she is well suited to the office that she assumes today. The symmetry between my career and hers is now uncanny—apart from all the successful bits. Not only were we elected on the same day, but we went to the same school: Madras college in St Andrews. Our modern studies teacher, Mrs Lynn Brown, will be as pleased as Punch for Jenny today. She will rightly be asking when it is my turn—you and me both, Lynn.

As a teacher in my constituency and as an MSP, Jenny Gilruth has inspired many people over her working life, and—as much as I hate to admit it—she inspires me. I welcome her to her place.

The Presiding Officer

There are two questions to be put. The first question is, that motion S5M-20875, in the name of the First Minister, on the appointment of a Scottish minister, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that Kate Forbes be appointed as a Minister.

The Presiding Officer

As the Parliament has agreed to the First Minister’s recommendation, she may now invite Her Majesty to approve the appointment of Kate Forbes as a Scottish minister. [Applause.] I congratulate Kate Forbes.

The next question is, that motion S5M-20874, in the in the name of the First Minister, on the appointment of a junior Scottish minister, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that Jenny Gilruth be appointed as a junior Scottish Minister.

The Presiding Officer

As the Parliament has agreed to the First Minister’s recommendation, she may now invite Her Majesty to approve the appointment of Jenny Gilruth as a junior Scottish minister. [Applause.] I congratulate Jenny Gilruth.