As I See It: Terry Murden
Economy, fair work and …. culture? Fiona Hyslop’s new job title required a second reading, given that we would not normally see the dour number crunchers, forecasters and dealmakers room-sharing with the dancers, jugglers and comedians. But then again….
Ms Hyslop was one of the beneficiaries of Nicola Sturgeon’s mini-reshuffle, triggered by Derek Mackay’s shock resignation on the eve of last week’s Scottish Budget.
The headline-grabber was Kate Forbes who steps into Mr Mackay’s job after the 29-year-old’s impressive handling of his statement at short notice, proving the old adage that ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ (the opposite is not necessarily the case). Even the opposition benches struggled to find fault with her performance.
Her promotion also created an opportunity for some reshaping of the Cabinet and the decision to ease the load on the young Ms Forbes’ shoulders by splitting Mr Mackay’s brief. Deciding who would be handling the economy appears to have been the tougher choice.
Ms Hyslop has been one of the First Minister’s trusted lieutenants, so a promotion was not unexpected. But handing her responsibility for the economy on top of her duties looking after the nation’s cultural agenda has created a bit of a mongrel department. The economy is surely deserving of its own dedicated minister, or at least one that sits alongside the nation’s finances.
Instead it remains split between two ministers, with Fergus Ewing retaining the rural economy brief. He also gets tourism from Ms Hyslop who now, confusingly, has to run a cultural department without responsibility for many of those it serves – the tourism industry.
The new Cabinet is heralded for its gender split with Jenny Gilruth also joining the government for the first time by taking on the role of Minister for Europe and International Development.
None of this shuffling of chairs will disguise the task of improving the government’s lamentable performance on education, health, transport – and the economy for which it will continue to blame Brexit, whatever the evidence may be to the contrary.
Ms Sturgeon has been unswerving in her commitment to spending on public services even though the country is living beyond its means and must surely at some point admit that Holyrood needs to resist passing the buck to Westminster every time something goes wrong.
Reviving flagging departments and key projects will depend largely on improving productivity to boost growth, and creating a tax regime that encourages investment. Finance and the economy may have new bosses, but they need the same injection of new ideas and stimulus. Ms Forbes is pivotal to setting the conditions for growth and must now show that she can deliver on her early promise.