Scottish cabinet reshuffle: Nicola Sturgeon given new independence role

Ms Sturgeon opened the debate on the government's programme shortly after the reshuffle was announced.

A Scottish government reshuffle has seen Nicola Sturgeon moved from health secretary to a new role overseeing the independence referendum.

Alex Salmond appointed Ms Sturgeon as cabinet secretary for infrastructure and capital spending the day after a referendum bill was announced.

Alex Neil, who had the infrastructure brief, will now move to health.

It is Mr Salmond's biggest cabinet reshuffle since the SNP came to power five years ago.

"It is probably sensible that Nicola Sturgeon be given a move from health. It is a portfolio which applies endless strain, given the public profile and the near impossibility of meeting ever expanding demand.

"Most would feel that she has performed that challenging task well - a task she now passes on to Alex Neil who can be expected to match, if not exceed, her for combative chamber rebuttals.

"However, it is her new roles which will attract most attention. Firstly, she takes charge of infrastructure and economic development. As the debate on the Programme for government attests, this is the core of government effort - not just in itself but also with an eye to the referendum.

"Secondly, she is to take "lead responsibility for government strategy and the constitution, including preparations for the referendum."

The team, then, is in place."

Other changes by the first minister have been forced due to decisions by MSPs to leave the cut and thrust of frontline politics.

Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business Bruce Crawford, who had been negotiating details of the independence referendum with the UK government, is retiring from cabinet.

Two junior ministers, Stewart Stevenson and Brian Adam, are also both leaving government.

Paul Wheelhouse has replaced Environment Minister Mr Stevenson and Joe Fitzpatrick has taken over as minister for parliamentary business.

Other government posts have remained unchanged.

John Swinney is staying as finance secretary; Mike Russell remains as education secretary; Kenny MacAskill stays in his justice job; Fiona Hyslop continues as culture minister and Richard Lochhead will carry on as minister for rural affairs and the environment.

After accepting her new role, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs at Holyrood that she had been extremely privileged to hold the health post.

She thanked the NHS officials she had worked with and gave praise to the health staff who keep the service running day in, day out.

On her new role covering both the economy and the forthcoming independence referendum, she said: "If we want a strong economy we must have access to all resources, not just those that the UK government chooses to give us.

Start Quote

I believe that the best people to take decisions on Scotland are those who live here”

End Quote Nicola Sturgeon Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Spending

"I believe that the best people to take decisions on Scotland are those who live here."

She told the chamber - ahead of the continued debate on the legislative programme - that she was ready to make a "positive and upbeat case" for independence and she looked forward to winning the referendum in two years time.

First Minister Alex Salmond said: "As health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon has demonstrated what can be achieved when Scotland has responsibility for its own affairs.

"She has delivered record low waiting times and protected the NHS from the creeping privatisation of the UK government.

"As cabinet secretary for infrastructure, investment and cities, she will have a lead role in our programme for economic recovery.

"With responsibility for government strategy and the constitution, she will also lead in making the positive case for Scotland's future."

Law graduate

Ms Sturgeon has been at the heart of government, playing a key role when the SNP won minority control in 2007 and again when it won a majority in 2011.

The 42-year-old law graduate entered the Scottish Parliament when it was created in 1999.

In the election of that year, Ms Sturgeon became an MSP for the Glasgow region. She was later elected the constituency member for Govan.

After gaining a law degree from Glasgow University, Ms Sturgeon had worked as a solicitor in the Drumchapel Law and Money Advice Centre in Glasgow.

She was appointed deputy first minister and health secretary following the May 2007 election.

Prior to that, Ms Sturgeon had been the party's spokeswoman for education.

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