Saturday, 22 November 2014

The 50/50 cabinet

Yesterday, Scotland's new First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, unveiled her reshuffled cabinet -- the first cabinet in the world to achieve complete parity between men and women. Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and Education Secretary Mike Russell are out -- replaced by Michael Matheson and Angela Constance respectively -- while Health Secretary Alex Neil has become Social Justice Secretary, his old role now filled by Shona Robison. As was trailed by last weekend's Sunday Herald, John Swinney will step into the shoes of Deputy First Minister, in addition to continuing in his role as Finance Secretary.

I'm not surprised to see MacAskill and Russell go. Both were pilloried heavily in the media and on the opposition benches for a number of reasons -- MacAskill primarily for his rather ill thought out (and currently iced) plans to remove the requirement of corroboration that is unique to Scotland's legal system, and Russell for his less than universally popular education reforms (though it goes without saying that the ire directed towards him pales into insignificance compared to that received by Gove south of the border). Neil too was on the receiving end of an infantile smear campaign cooked up by the Labour party (over his intervention to stop the closure of a mental health ward in his constituency), so in a sense his sideways move could be seen as an attempt to clean the slate. (Incidentally, it was observed by Alex Salmond in his final First Minister's Questions last Thursday that Labour had, at one point or other, called for the resignation of every single member of his cabinet... with the exception of himself.)

As regards the new cabinet's gender equality, while I think it's a laudable achievement, I must admit that I have very mixed feelings about the idea of gender quotas, or indeed quotas of any kind. Given the low number of women in politics in the UK, they may to an extent be a necessary evil, but I'm always left feeling rather uncomfortable with the idea that a person's gender could potentially have played a greater role in their appointment than their suitability for the job. I don't for a minute wish to suggest that any of the women promoted to the cabinet got the job at the expense of a better qualified male counterpart, but such accusations are inevitably going to surface in these situations.

Today Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond and Stewart Hosie addressed a crowd of 12,000 independence supporters at the packed out Glasgow Hydro. I was working and so wasn't able to go, but my dad did and was good enough to bring me back a giant foam hand, which unfortunately I'm finding rather difficult to type with.

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