Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
by Liam Kirkaldy
19 August 2015
Sketch: When is a reshuffle not a reshufle?

Sketch: When is a reshuffle not a reshufle?

The Holyrood team bumped into one of Nicola Sturgeon’s closest advisers on the way to Kezia Dugdale’s press conference.

“What are you up to?” he asked. Upon hearing the news of Kezia’s imminent reshuffle, he looked remarkably relaxed. He paused a moment, then smiled: “Oh. That’s nice.”

And it was nice. The sun was out and so were the brightest minds in Scottish political journalism. Some had even gone as far as to wear ill-suiting sunglasses.


Kezia Dugdale unveils Scottish Labour front bench team

Tony Blair's guide to saving Labour

The launch took place at Punjabi Junction, a social enterprise community café working to empower Sikh women in Scotland.

Inside, photos of famous visitors adorn the walls. One depicts the judge from Great British Bake Off, grinning. Another shows a young John Swinney laughing as he helps in the kitchen. It is not clear if the Labour party were aware of that.

Outdoors, it was so warm the media seemed loathed to go inside. A press officer, seizing the moment, cracked a joke about “sunshine on Leith.”

Eventually another party staffer announced big news. “Kezia will be walking down the road.” Murmurs of excitement rippled through the crowd. Cameras were set in position.

She arrived talking to Jenny Marra. Or were they fake talking? Who knows.

Meanwhile her deputy, Alex Rowley, was nowhere to be seen.

Still, with or without a bit of Rowley’s stardust, this was a big moment. The time had come. Kezia Dugdale, the new leader of Scottish Labour, was going to make it clear what the party stands for, once and for all. So what would the reshuffle mean?

The answer, it transpired, was that pretty much everyone would keep the same position they had before, but they would get a new job title.

That may sound confusing, because it is.

But while previously the old portfolios mirrored those of the Scottish Government ministers, the new ones would be more fluid.

As Dugdale put it ahead of the announcement: “The idea of simply shadowing government ministers is outdated. Of course we must hold the SNP Government to account for its failings on schools, our NHS and policing - and we will do that.

"But I want to shake things up and have a fresh start.” 

Scottish Labour will no longer have an education spokesperson, for example. Instead, Iain Gray will be “opportunity spokesperson” – a brief covering schools, childcare, skills, colleges and universities, and the rest of the education system.

Instead of being health spokesperson, as she was, Jenny Marra will be “equality spokesperson”, which means she will comment on health, equalities and welfare.  

Dugdale said: “Too often people tell us they don't know what Labour stands for. Under my leadership there will be no doubt about what we stand for and who we stand with. The job titles of my front bench team are part of that.”

This, she told the press, was part of a new “free thinking approach to policy.”

Won’t that make everything really confusing for everyone?

Yes, said Dugdale, it will. As such the party will be releasing a guide to stakeholders.

The plan, she explained, was to “stop facing off against Scottish Government ministers in Parliament, and face the people of Scotland instead”.

That seemed to make sense. Though it would probably be easier to enact if the people of Scotland understood what a “Reform Spokesperson” is. It turns out it is Mary Fee.

But it does seem a risky plan. After all, it begs the question, why does Kezia Dugdale not believe having an education spokesperson reflects Labour values?

Others would claim Labour was historically the party of the health service, so why would a health brief not reflect what the party stands for?

Whether the move will be enough to stop the SNP in its tracks remains to be seen.

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by Liam Kirkaldy - Sketch: If the Queen won’t do it, it’ll just have to be Matt Hancock.

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top