Letter from Edinburgh 13.02.09

Ministerial reshuffles are great fun. Especially when no one knows they’re coming. This week Alex Salmond sacked three ministers while saying, of course, they hadn’t been failures. They were allocated new responsibilities such as, like . . . like . . . well new responsibilities. The media love ministerial changes. Who is up, down or neither.

Mike Russell is moved from crofting and salmon farming to culture and independence. Actually the timing of this couldn’t be worse for Shetland. Mike, to his credit, has got his head around these issues. He showed an ability to recognise he was wrong on the bull hire scheme for crofters, a scheme that will now be extended.

And, following a visit to Shetland that conveniently coincided with Up-Helly-A’, he was working hard on the aftermath of the ISA problem on salmon farms west of Scalloway. This has got to a particularly important stage as the measures in place to eradicate the problem are hitting a number of businesses hard.

The impact is not just on the directly affected salmon and fish companies but on supply companies as well. So there is a very important role for government to step in and help out.

I congratulated the new minister, Roseanna Cunningham, this week and said that I needed to ask her about salmon. She told me that she had already been briefed by government officials. Good.

A minister hitting the ground running is what the industry needs.

The greater entertainment this week was Alex Neil being appoint­ed by his former arch enemy, the other Alex, to be housing minister. I have to confess that Alex Neil is a good mate. We have seen eye to eye on the banking scandals, and have done some joint work calling for HBOS to be fully nationalised as an independent bank rather than being forced into the takeover by Lloyds TSB.

Incidentally, my colleague Vince Cable said this week that both RBS and the new Lloyds group will be fully nationalised for a short period until banking is sorted out. Given his track record of predictions, I would lay a small bet on that happening.

But Alex Neil has been the most dedicated and committed defender of Scottish government policy for two years now. There is not a TV or radio studio in the country that he has not been in to defend Alex Salmond. So, not unsurprisingly, the considered view is that this uber loyalty has been rewarded with promotion. I have pointed this out to my own Liberal Democrat troops, with a heavy hint about preferment, but so far they have failed to note this clear and explicit hint on the best way to climb politics’ greasy pole!

Tavish Scott MSP


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