Analysis: Continuity or change?

The new First Minister is trying to strike a delicate balance. On one hand, with minimal changes in personnel, John Swinney is signalling a commitment to continuity and unity in the leadership of the SNP and Scottish Government. On the other, the appointment of Kate Forbes in the economy brief is particularly noteworthy, suggesting that while most faces remain familiar there could be subtle shifts in policy and priorities.

This ministerial composition reflects a strategy to maintain a steady course and govern from the centre ground in response to recent electoral challenges from Labour, as the SNP looks to consolidate its position ahead of the General Election and 2026 Holyrood election.

The choice to bring back Forbes, and a key ally Ivan McKee—figures known for their economic acumen and who are popular within the business community—highlights a focus on stability and economic growth, which Swinney evidently hopes will resonate with voters and business leaders alike.

By opting for a “continuity cabinet,” Swinney appears to be striving for this delicate balance: aiming to sustain party unity and voter support while gently steering the government towards policies that mitigate losses and lay a robust groundwork for future electoral success.

The effectiveness of this strategy will hinge on the ability of these familiar leaders, under their new directives, to rejuvenate the government’s agenda and adapt effectively to the changing political and economic circumstances in Scotland.

Headline moves

  • Kate Forbes has returned to government as Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Gaelic. There were no departures from the cabinet.
  • Màiri McAllan is now Cabinet Secretary for Energy and Net Zero, with the economy part of her brief going to Kate Forbes.
  • Ivan McKee also returns to government as Minister for Public Finance.
  • Ministerial roles for Independence and for Culture, Europe and International Development have been scrapped.
  • Minister for Parliamentary Business George Adam, Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees Emma Roddick, and Minister for Local Government Empowerment and Planning Joe Fitzpatrick have resigned from their previous roles and left government.

In full: New Scottish Government Cabinet & Ministers

Please find the full list of the new Cabinet, and Ministers below. This list is organised by Cabinet Secretary, and the Ministers who report to them. In total, there are 11 Cabinet Secretaries, supported by 14 Ministers.

  • John Swinney – First Minister
    • Jamie Hepburn – Minister for Parliamentary Business
  • Kate Forbes – Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Gaelic
    • Richard Lochhead – Minister for Business
    • Tom Arthur – Minister for Employment and Investment
  • Shona Robison – Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government
    • Ivan McKee – Minister for Public Finance
  • Màiri McAllan – Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy
    • Gillian Martin – Minister for Climate Action
  • Fiona Hyslop – Cabinet Secretary for Transport
    • Jim Fairlie – Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity (reporting jointly to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands)
  • Neil Gray – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care
    • Jenni Minto – Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health
    • Maree Todd – Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport
    • Christina McKelvie – Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy
  • Shirley-Anne Somerville – Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice
    • Kaukab Stewart – Minister for Equalities
    • Paul McLennan – Minister for Housing
  • Mairi Gougeon – Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands
    • Jim Fairlie – Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity (reporting jointly to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport)
  • Jenny Gilruth – Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
    • Natalie Don – Minister for Children, Young People and The Promise
    • Graeme Dey – Minister for Higher and Further Education; and Minister for Veterans
  • Angela Constance – Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs
    • Siobhian Brown – Minister for Victims and Community Safety
  • Angus Robertson – Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

Kate Forbes, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Gaelic

Constituency / Ministerial record:

  • MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch (2016 – present)
  • Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy (2021 – 2023) 
  • Cabinet Secretary for Finance (2020 – 2021)
  • Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy (2018 – 2020)

Born in Dingwall to Christian missionaries, Forbes’ upbringing was characterised by a blend of cultural experiences, split between India and Scotland. She received her education at a Scottish Gaelic school, where she honed her fluency in the language. Educated at the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, her political journey began as a researcher for MSP Dave Thompson in the Scottish Parliament. She later worked at Barclays for two years as a trainee graduate accountant.

In 2016, she was elected MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch. Swiftly rising through the SNP ranks, she was appointed Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy as part of a wider reshuffle in June 2018. Following Derek Mackay’s sudden resignation on the day of the 2020 Scottish Budget, Forbes assumed the role of Finance Secretary, where she navigated the economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the UK’s cost of living crisis.

Forbes was a candidate in the 2023 SNP leadership race, narrowly missing out on securing the position to Humza Yousaf after securing 47.9% of the vote share. Her membership of the Free Church of Scotland and her adherence to socially conservative principles drew public attention and criticism during the contest, particularly her views on sexual ethics, characterised by a commitment to traditional values and opposition to practices such as premarital sex, same-sex marriage, and most abortions.

Following Yousaf’s resignation as First Minister, Forbes opted not to pursue leadership contention in the SNP election, instead throwing her support behind John Swinney. Swinney, upon assuming office, has now appointed Forbes to her current role as Deputy Fist Minister, underscoring her continued influence and importance within the party and the broader political landscape.

Considered to be the on the right of the SNP, Forbes has advocated for sustainable growth, technological innovation, and has been pivotal in discussions around taxation and public spending. Her policies typically emphasise fairness and economic opportunity, with a keen interest in promoting digital connectivity and supporting the rural economy.

Ivan McKee, Minister for Public Finance

Constituency / Ministerial record:

  • MSP for Glasgow Provan (2016 – Present)
  • Minister for Public Finance (2024)
  • Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise (2021 – 2023)
  • Minister for Trade, Innovation and Public Finance (2020 – 2021)
  • Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation (2018 – 2020)

Born and educated in Scotland, Ivan McKee entered politics during the 2014 independence referendum after a successful career as a business owner and investor in international manufacturing. At the onset of the campaign, he became a Director of Business for Scotland which sought to make the business and economic case for a Yes vote.

McKee was first elected as the MSP for Glasgow Provan in 2016. He has played a significant role in shaping policies aimed at improving Scotland’s economy and has championed progressive policies to empower individuals and businesses, focusing on economic development, job creation and boosting inward investment.

He has held several ministerial roles, including Minister for Trade, Investment, and Innovation. In this capacity, he has been responsible for promoting Scotland’s interests on a global stage, seeking to attract foreign investment and boost domestic businesses. He played a crucial role in “A Trading Nation,” a strategic plan devised by the Scottish Government aimed at increasing Scotland’s exports and promoting international trade. His efforts were often geared towards enhancing Scotland’s technological and innovation landscape to create a more dynamic and competitive economy.

McKee is also noted for his engagement in debates on Scotland’s economic strategy, where he advocates for policies that support sustainable growth and the enhancement of Scotland’s position in the global economy.

Outside of politics, McKee is dedicated to philanthropic causes, supporting organisations like CEI and Edinburgh Direct Aid to drive positive social change.

For a detailed analysis of the impact of the reshuffle on specific sectors or interests, please contact the BIG Public Affairs team on: [email protected]

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