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Who is Jenny Gilruth? Meet Scotland’s Transport Minister dealing with a ScotRail crisis

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.
Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.

Meet the SNP minister with the task of sorting out Scotland’s trains.

Jenny Gilruth is the Scottish Government transport minister – a brief which takes in rail, ferries and public transport.

In short, it’s a portfolio with a lot of pressure.

Just months into the job, under Transport Secretary Michael Matheson, train drivers are refusing to work overtime and ferries remain unfinished in the yard.

Here’s how the Fife MSP came to the job in Nicola Sturgeon’s government.

From the north-east to Fife

Jennifer Gilruth was born in Aberdeen in 1984. She was raised in Banff before her family moved to Ceres in Fife when she was young.

She attended Aberchirder primary school in Aberdeenshire, Ceres primary school, then Madras College in St Andrews. She went on to study politics and sociology at Glasgow University.

While a student in Glasgow she became an active member of the SNP’s student wing and served on the national executive of Young Scots for Independence.

Jenny Gilruth out campaigning in 2016 with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

After her undergraduate degree she studied for a PDGE to teach modern studies at Strathclyde University and worked at the Scottish Executive as a graduate researcher in the justice department.

She joined the SNP officially at the age of 22 in 2007 and worked for Tricia Marwick MSP in her constituency office and Kenny MacAskill MSP in Holyrood.

She also had a spell as a parliamentary liaison officer for Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

Life as a school teacher

Before becoming a politician Ms Gilruth was a teacher.

She taught modern studies at Royal High School in Edinburgh, and latterly was head of social subjects at St Columba’s RC High School in Dunfermline.

However Ms Gilruth, who lives in Markinch, stood for election in 2016 for the SNP and was elected to the Mid Fife and Glenrothes seat.

In January 2020 she stepped up to become a government minister, being given the job of minister for Europe, migration and international development.

It was part of a cabinet reshuffle following the resignation of finance secretary Derek Mackay.

Jenny Gilruth MSP.

At the 2021 Holyrood election she was re-elected to Mid Fife and Glenrothes with a majority of 10,234 – one of the biggest majorities in the country.

Following the resignation of Graeme Dey, she was officially made minister for transport in the ministerial reshuffle of January 2022.

Relationship with Kezia Dugdale

Before becoming a government minister, Ms Gilruth began a relationship with fellow MSP Kezia Dugdale.

At the time, Ms Dugdale was leader of Scottish Labour, and a close friend of the couple said they “share much in common” but will always “differ over politics”.

Jenny Gilruth and Kezia Dugdale.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon congratulated the couple by saying “love really does conquer all”.

Work as transport minister

Despite success in her own constituency, she has faced added pressure as transport minister.

Most notably, ScotRail train disruption.

The train operator introduced a reduced timetable at the end of May 2022 over a pay dispute with train drivers union Aslef as drivers refused to work overtime on rest days.

This led to 700 services being axed.

Mick Hogg, Scottish regional organiser of the RMT union, accused Ms Gilruth of “telling lies” when she said she wanted to see unions and ScotRail getting round the table to negotiate.

She disputed the claim as disrespectful and inaccurate, and said: “I spent a lot of time at the start of my appointment with our trade union partners to try and bring them into the conversation about the future of Scotland’s trains.”

Jenny Gilruth MSP at a public meeting in Markinch

And she has consistently faced angry questions over the train cuts, which lead to her declaring in parliament: “I don’t drive the trains.”

And it’s not just trains – as transport minister she also has responsibilities for Scotland’s ferries.

The Scottish Government is under fire for significant delays and overspends to two new CalMac ferries.

This lead to Ms Gilruth being accused of treating the Scottish Parliament with “contempt” after claiming to find a “missing” email that showed the contract for these two new ferries was approved by her predecessor Mr Mackay.

Opposition parties also used this email to place the blame on Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who was finance secretary at the time and is said to have had final sign off on this decision.

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