Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael has spoken of his “absolute delight” at being promoted to the coalition government’s cabinet.
He was this morning named as Secretary of State for Scotland, replacing Michael Moore in the cabinet reshuffle.
Speaking on Monday, Mr Carmichael said he was “absolutely delighted” to be given the job as Scottish secretary.
“It’s probably one of the key jobs in Scottish politics at the moment” he told The Shetland Times. “With the referendum coming up it takes on a completely different complexion. And after three and a half years almost in the whips’ office, doing a backroom job in many ways, I’m just relishing being back in the fray again.”
The role of chief whip for his party has not been an easy one. Convincing LibDem colleagues to vote for controversial reforms to welfare and the NHS, and for a rise in tuition fees, were serious challenges for Mr Carmichael. And the coming year in his new job is unlikely to be any easier.
“It is pretty obvious that Nick Clegg has decided that whoever else in life is going to get an easy ride, I’m not going to be one of them” he laughed. “But no, it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be easy because it matters. And frankly anybody who comes into politics for an easy time is going to be pretty soon disappointed.”
Many commentators have said that Mr Carmichael is considered a more formidable opponent for Alex Salmond in the run up to the referendum next September than his predecessor Michael Moore.
In his letter to Mr Moore on Monday, Nick Clegg wrote: “I believe we now need to draw on different experience in the final year running up to the referendum itself and I am keen that just as we have benefited from your formidable skills over the past three years that [sic] we take advantage of other experience within our ranks during this period”.
According to Mr Carmichael, the “outward-facing” part of his new job will be “engaging in the [referendum] debate, broadening it out, and then making it real, so that it stops being a debate that is somehow about abstract notions of nationhood, sovereignty and things like that, that don’t really mean an awful lot to people”. Instead, it should become “a debate about people’s livelihoods, about the strength of our economy, about the security of their jobs”.
He said it was both a “communications role” and a “campaign role”.
Mr Carmichael said: “We need to realise that if we are going to consolidate our position in this debate then there’s going to need to be a range of skills and approaches taken, and I would regard Alistair Darling from Labour, David Mundell from the Conservative party, colleagues in the Scottish parliament and colleagues in London as all being part of a team.
“In every job I have taken in politics I hope I’ve always been sensible enough to realise that one person is not going to achieve everything – that you can only achieve if you can build a team and make it work. And that’s what I’m going to be doing.”
In a statement released on Monday morning, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie said: “As we move to the next stage of the [referendum] campaign I am looking forward to working with Alistair Carmichael. His feisty style combined with his charm, wit and intelligence is just what we need for the last twelve months in our efforts to safeguard our partnership with the rest of the United Kingdom”.