The new Scottish Government

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It’s been a busy week in Scottish politics with a new First Minister and a new Scottish Cabinet appointed.

This blog provides a recap of the week’s events so far and looks at the changes in the Scottish Government.

Monday 27 March

At 2pm on Monday afternoon the SNP announced the result of its leadership election. Humza Yousaf MSP was successful and took the reins as leader of the SNP.

Tuesday 28 March

Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Scotland’s longest serving First Minister (serving since 20 November 2014), wrote to His Majesty, King Charles III, to tender her resignation. The letter read:

With my humble duty, I write as anticipated in my letter to Your Majesty of 15 February to tender to Your Majesty my resignation from the office of First Minister. I propose that my resignation take effect from the start of Scottish parliamentary plenary business on Tuesday 28 March 2023.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s letter to His Majesty King Charles III, 28 March 2023

The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament informed MSPs of the First Minister’s resignation in the Business Bulletin. Information was provided to members as to the process to select a candidate for appointment as First Minister.  

“The Presiding Officer notifies the Parliament that the First Minister has tendered her resignation, which has been accepted by His Majesty the King. 
Members may now make nominations for selection of the Parliament’s nominee for a new First Minister. Nominations must be submitted on official nomination forms. These are available from the Parliamentary Business Team in T1.03 and completed forms should be returned there no later than 1.50 pm. 
The process for selection of the nominee for First Minister will take place at 2.20 pm today. At the start of proceedings, each of the nominees will be called in alphabetical order to address the Chamber for up to five minutes.” 

Business Bulletin, Tuesday 28 March 2023

A previous SPICe blog set out the rules around the selection of a candidate for appointment as First Minister and another looked at the timings of the selection and appointment of a new First Minister

There were four MSPs nominated as candidates for First Minister: Alex Cole-Hamilton, Douglas Ross, Anas Sarwar and Humza Yousaf.  

Neither co-leader of the Scottish Greens (Patrick Harvie MSP and Lorna Slater MSP) stood as a candidate. This reflects that the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Government are working to a cooperation agreement dating from September 2021. After Humza Yousaf was declared leader of the SNP, the Scottish Green Party Council agreed to continue with the cooperation agreement. Mr Yousaf had previously said that “Maintaining the deal will be one of my first priorities if I am elected as leader of the SNP”. As part of that agreement, two MSPs from the Scottish Green Party are junior Ministers in the Scottish Government. SPICe has previously written about the cooperation agreement

The result of the Parliament’s vote to select a candidate for nomination as First Minister was Alex Cole-Hamilton 4, Douglas Ross 31, Anas Sarwar 22, Humza Yousaf 71. Given Humza Yousaf MSP received an overall majority of the vote, he was selected as the Parliament’s nominee as First Minister. Mr Yousaf is the first person of colour and the first person of the Muslim faith to be selected as First Minister. In his speech, Mr Yousaf said: 

“I hope that my going from there to now leading the Government as Scotland’s sixth First Minister sends a strong message to every single person out there who feels that they do not belong. No matter what anyone says, no matter who you are, no matter whether Scotland has been your home for a day or for 10 generations, no matter your ethnicity, no matter your gender, no matter your religion and no matter your sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability, this is your home. Do not let anyone ever tell you that you are not good enough. Do not let anyone ever tell you that you do not belong. As First Minister, I will always fight for your rights and, where possible, I will do everything that I can to advance them.” 

Official Report, 28 March 2023

Mr Yousaf stated that he would seek to appoint Shona Robison MSP as Deputy First Minister.

Wednesday 29 March

Humza Yousaf MSP was sworn in as First Minister at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. This means that Humza Yousaf is now officially the First Minister of Scotland and the Keeper of the Scottish Seal. The Lord President of the Court of Session (Scotland’s highest civil court), Lord Carloway, presided over the oath taking.  

As First Minister, Humza Yousaf is now able to appoint Scottish Ministers. Ministerial appointments are agreed by the Parliament and approved by the King. This is provided for in section 47 (Scottish Ministers) and section 49 (Junior Scottish Ministers) of the Scotland Act 1998. The Parliamentary Bureau has allocated time on afternoon of Thursday 30 March 2023 for the appointment of Scottish Ministers and junior Ministers

The Parliament approves any Ministerial appointment as set out in Standing Orders Rule 4.6 and Rule 4.7 for Junior Ministers (which applies Rule 4.6 allowing for “such modifications as are appropriate”). Rule 4.6.4 states that the result is only valid if:  

“the number of members who voted is more than one quarter of the total number of seats for members. In calculating the number of members who have voted for this purpose, account shall be taken not only of those voting for or against the motion but also of those voting to abstain.” 

Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament

What is the Scottish Government?

Section 44 of the Scotland Act 1998 as amended provides that the Scottish Government consists of the First Minister and other Scottish Ministers (now known as Cabinet Secretaries): 

“The Scottish Government

(1)There shall be a Scottish Government, whose members shall be—

(a)the First Minister,

(b)such Ministers as the First Minister may appoint under section 47, and

(c)the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland.

(2)The members of the Scottish Government are referred to collectively as the Scottish Ministers.”

The Scotland Act 1998 as amended

The two Law Officers, the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland do not need to be MSPs. 

There is no statutory (legal) limit on the size of the Scottish Government. Nicola Sturgeon MSP’s most recent government contained nine Cabinet Secretaries (including the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery) and 17 junior Ministers.  

What is the shape of the Scottish Government led by First Minister Humza Yousaf? 

The infographic below sets out the Cabinet Secretaries which will serve in Mr Yousaf’s Government. The infographic also indicates the previous office holder.  

The Cabinet will also be supported by 18 junior Ministers. The infographic below sets out the junior Ministers which will serve in Mr Yousaf’s Government.

What happens next? 

Today (Thursday 30 March 2023) Humza Yousaf will face his first session of First Minister’s Questions in the Chamber of the Scottish Parliament. In the afternoon, the Parliament will be asked to agree Ministerial appointments.   

The First Minister has indicated that his intention is to set out his plans in more detail to the Parliament after the Easter recess. The Business agreed by the Parliament on 22 March 2023 for Tuesday 18 April 2023 (the first day of Business after the Easter recess) includes a statement by the First Minister on ‘Scottish Government priorities’. 

At present it remains unclear whether this means that the new First Minister will bring forward a revised Programme for Government. What will, it seems, remain constant is the shared policy agenda agreed with the Scottish Green Party as part of the cooperation agreement. The shared policy agenda details policy priorities in areas such as the climate emergency, economic recovery, child poverty, the natural environment, energy and the constitution. 

The speech made by Humza Yousaf MSP, after being selected by the Parliament as candidate for First Minister, highlights where the new Scottish Government’s priorities appear to be: 

“A key priority of my Government will be to protect every Scot, as far as we can, from the harm that has been inflicted by the cost of living crisis…We will protect and reform our NHS, social care and other vital public services to support a wellbeing economy and improve the life chances of people right across our country…We will rapidly develop plans to extend childcare, improve rural housing, support small businesses and boost innovation…We will bring forward reforms of the criminal justice system, continue our work to reduce the number of drug deaths and create a new deal with local government to empower local authorities to meet the challenges of the day. We will support businesses, we will seize the economic and social opportunities of a just transition to net zero and we will continue to ensure that Scotland uses its voice on the international stage.” 

Official Report 28 March 2023

Sarah McKay and Courtney Aitken, SPICe research