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SNP reshuffle: Runners and riders for Nicola Sturgeon’s new top team

Nicola Sturgeon SNP reshuffle
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is looking for votes in target seats.

Nicola Sturgeon has some big decisions to make as she seeks to reshuffle her top team for the SNP’s fourth term in office.

A third of the Cabinet secretary posts are vacant following the retirement of Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, Constitution Secretary Michael Russell, Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell, and Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

It also is possible that the first minister might be thinking about moves for veteran colleagues such as John Swinney and Fergus Ewing, who currently lead on education and the rural economy respectively.

At ministerial level, meanwhile, Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse has lost his seat and Older People Minister Christina McKelvie was heavily criticised during the pandemic.

The role of Lord Advocate James Wolffe also came under scrutiny in the wake of the Holyrood inquiry into the handling of allegations against Alex Salmond.

We have had a look at some of the SNP MSPs who may be in line for high-profile jobs, potentially alongside the likes of Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie in the event of a formal coalition with the Greens.

Angus Robertson

An obvious candidate for a senior position, most likely in the Cabinet.

The former SNP Westminster leader could be a potential replacement for Michael Russell in the constitution, Europe and external affairs brief.

Alternatively, he might fancy a go at running one of the big domestic departments, such as education or health, or even take on the environment portfolio, which will be key in the run-up to the COP26 global gathering in Glasgow on the climate emergency.

If for any reason Ms Sturgeon required a different deputy first minister to replace John Swinney, the new Edinburgh Central MSP would be an option.

Kate Forbes

Assured performances, and two successfully approved annual budgets, mean the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP is likely to retain her finance secretary job.

Could it even be combined, once again, with the economy brief, after the two were previously separated following Derek Mackay’s spectacular fall from grace?

Her colleagues Humza Yousaf, Michael Matheson and Fiona Hyslop would also hope to keep their jobs covering justice, transport and culture, respectively, or be moved sideways within the Cabinet.

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Considered one of Ms Sturgeon’s closest allies in government, the re-elected Dunfermline MSP is currently the social security secretary and has also served as higher education minister.

Could be a contender for either a promotion to health secretary or education secretary.

Richard Lochhead

The Moray MSP served in the Cabinet as rural affairs, food and environment secretary until 2016, when he resigned to help support his wife during a health battle.

He returned as higher education minister in 2018, and Ms Sturgeon might be keen to bring back someone of his experience to her Cabinet, following a series of departures.

Ben Macpherson

Long considered a rising star, despite his quiet demeanour, Mr Macpherson has already been Europe minister and went on to become minister for rural affairs. The Edinburgh Northern and Leith MSP could join the Cabinet in the next parliament.

Mairi Gougeon

Another member of the Class of 2016, alongside Ms Forbes and Mr Macpherson, the public health minister, who is the MSP for Angus North and Mearns, could also be in line for a promotion before long. The same could be said for her ministerial colleagues Ash Denham and Jenny Gilruth.

Gillian Martin

She was already appointed a minister in 2018, only to have the job offer withdrawn a day later amid a furore over historic blog posts. The Aberdeenshire East MSP has been an impressive backbencher and environment committee convener ever since, however, and Ms Sturgeon will be keen utilise her talents in government.

Kevin Stewart

Kevin Stewart was all smiles after his re-election in Aberdeen Central this evening.

Considered by his colleagues as a safe pair of hands covering the huge ministerial brief of housing, local government and planning, the hard-working Aberdeen Central MSP could step up to succeed Ms Campbell as communities and local government secretary.

Neil Gray

Orkney born and raised, Mr Gray was previously the MP for Airdrie and Shotts, before winning the Holyrood constituency of the same name. He was the SNP spokesman on work and pensions at Westminster.

Kaukab Stewart

The Glasgow Kelvin MSP has just become the first woman of colour to be elected to Holyrood, and the teacher could make more history when she gets there.

Màiri McAllan

The newly-elected Clydesdale MSP is a trained lawyer who served as a special adviser to Ms Sturgeon (and Ms Cunningham) in 2020. Might not walk straight into a top job, but it will not take her long.

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