17 September 2007

Wendy Alexander's Shadow Cabinet

The BBC is reporting the appointments to this august body, though we don't have full titles, only portfolios: it's not totally clear who'll be treated as a Shadow Cabinet Secretary and who'll be a Shadow Minister. What is clear, is that the posts don't map strictly on to Government jobs, and that there are more titles. Is this a sign that if elected First Minister, Alexander would increase the number of Government departments again, or simply that many people's support came at a price? My money's on that not being an 'either/or' scenario.

Anyway, Cathy Jamieson is still Deputy Leader, but no longer has a portfolio. She is replaced as Shadow Parliament Minister by Jackie Baillie, currently Convener of the Europe and External Affairs Committee. Baillie was a Deputy to Alexander when she was Donald Dewar's Social Inclusion Minister, and was propmoted to Social Justice Minister under Henry McLeish, but was sacked by Jack McConnell. Meanwhile, Shadow Europe, External Affiars and Culture Minister Patricia Ferguson loses her place to Malcolm Chisholm, who was first Health Minister, then Communities Minister under Jack McConnell, until he resigned over Trident.

Iain Gray is promoted to the Finance portfolio, filling Alexander's old role. Gray was McConnell's Social Justice Minister, before replacing Alexander as Enterprise Minister when she resigned from the Cabinet in 2002. He his Edinburgh Pentlands seat to David McLetchie in 2003, but returned as MSP for East Lothian in May, and was appointed Shadow Enterprise Minister by McConnell. Elaine Murray (MSP for Dumfries and former Deputy Minister) takes up the Enterprise portfolio. Lewis Macdonald moves from Public Health to Energy and Tourism (so both Murray and he shadow Jim Mather), while Andy Kerr has the Public Services portfolio. In the absence of any actual title I can't say this with 100% certainty, but this looks like a Junior role, so a substantial demotion for McConnell's key lieutenant, a former Finance Minister, then Health Minister. Charlie Gordon, meanwhile, takes the Transport portfolio.

Rhona Brankin, until today the Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary, moves over to Education,replacing Hugh Henry. Ken McIntosh keeps the Schools part of his portfolio but John Park becomes the Skills Spokesman. Mary Mulligan comes into the Children and Early Years portfolio (Pauline McNeill has been promoted), and Richard Baker now speaks on Higher Education and Student Support. Frankly, I thought he was doomed - he was PPS to McConnell - so he's done well.

Margaret Curran takes Andy Kerr's old job at Health, with former GP and former Deputy Justice Minister (until he was drummed out of office for calling striking firefighters 'fascist bastards') Richard Simpson filling the vacancy at Public Health. Johann Lamont says with Communities, but the sport part of her portfolio is now in the hands of Frank McAveety, who was Tourism Minister until 'Piegate'.

The vacancy at Justice created by Margaret Curran's move to Health is filled by the aforementioned Pauline McNeill, while Paul Martin remains at Community Safety.

Sarah Boyack, meanwhile is promoted (at least, I think it's a promotion) to Rural Affairs. Boyack is the MSP for Edinburgh Central, which, having lived there, has never struck me as particularly rural, but there you go. Des McNulty becomes Environment Spokesman, Karen Gillon, until now a Labour whip, will now speak on Rural Development. Committee appointments and the like will become clearer soon, I suspect.

So who has lost? Clearly, Patricia Ferguson and Hugh Henry. Ferguson was always at risk (despite supporting Alexander) as a result of her connections with the Campaign for Socialism, which tried to field a candidate against Alexander and might have got someone on the ballot paper had Ferguson herself co-operated with the others. Ironically, if this had happened, she'd probably still be in a job: Alexander would be politically unable to get rid of someone who could call on allies to undermine the Leadership if suitably antagonised. By supporting the Leader, but by being part of a group that didn't, Alexander can get rid of a member of an unfashionable faction and, at the same time, honestly state that it's a supporter who is making way for someone else. Why is Hugh Henry out? Firstly, Henry was only a stopgap, replacing an unwell Peter Peacock as a Minister, and having appointed him, McConnell couldn't dismiss him from the frontbench easily whereas Alexander can. Further, Henry is Alexander's Constituency neighbour, and the new Leader is sensitive to accusations that Labour is a 'West of Scotland' party. So I think Hugh Henry's main crime is simply being in the wrong Constituency at the wrong time.

However, Andy Kerr is an even bigger loser, kept in the inner circle but in a much reduced role. Kerr cannot go completely off the rails as he's still on the front bench, but this is a clear demotion, as 1) he was always too close to McConnell, and 2) he was one of the biggest threats to Alexander. The man has, in my opinion, been humiliated.

Wendy Alexander quit the frontbench when, in what can only be decribed as a form of torture, Jack McConnell gave her a huge and difficult portfolio to deal with. She remained a threat to McConnell ever since. Does Andy Kerr have the guts to follow suit, or will he just stick with what little he has left?

Time will tell.

[UPDATE - 2300: Kez has the full SP, and informs me that Kerr is a Shadow Cabinet Secretary, thus making this definitely not a demotion. I still have my doubts, though, as you'll see in the Comments. Where does Finance end and 'Public Services' begin?]


Kezia Dugdale said...

Come on J. Arthur! That's not like you to go on a rant before checking your facts.

Andy Kerr has not been demoted - it's a new position. Just like appointing spokespeople for skills and another for higher education, Wendy is demonstrating that she doesn't have to replicate SNP positions to form an effective opposition.

The Cabinet Secretary for Public Services is a post which will give higher priority to some of the issues hidden away in the back pages of John Swinney's epic portfolio.

... I'm just about to publish the full line up on my blog. Take a look.

Will said...

As I say, at the time, I didn't have the titles to hand, the BBC only gave portfolios, and from what I could work out, it looked like a subset of Finance.

And in this case, things are even more confusing: what things in the "back pages of John Swinney's portfolio", exactly? How exactly is 'public services' defined? Why does that definition include what it does and exclude what it does? Does this give Kerr a role to speak on health, or education? Where does Andy Kerr's remit begin and everyone else's end?

I see the rationale in appointing specific people to specific aspects of policy, like having a skills AND an HE spokesperson, but the posts are largely self-evident. Kerr's title can mean anything, which, paradoxically, makes it meaningless: he basically ends up having to be where someone else isn't.

As to how the structure works out, with the mismatch between the Government and the Opposition roles, I'll wait to see how it unfolds. I can't see much of an issue with the extra spokeys in Education and Health, and there's a logic to Sarah Boyack covering a bit of Richard Lochhead's brief and a bit of Stewart Stevenson's. Iain Gray's Swinney-lite portfolio is manageable, but I'm really sceptical about Kerr's 'Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Whatever the Others Aren't Doing' job.

It strikes me that Kerr will have to make it up as he goes along.

Tell you what, if we see anything major from him in the press before I'm next in Edinburgh, I owe you lunch. ;)