Bute MSP leaves education post in cabinet reshuffle

Argyll and Bute's SNP MSP Michael Russell has lost his post as cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning in the first reshuffle by new First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Argyll and Bute's SNP MSP Michael Russell has lost his post as cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning in the first reshuffle by new First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Bute’s MSP Michael Russell has left his post as the cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning in the Scottish Government.

Following widespread speculation that he would not be retained in the post in new first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet reshuffle, Mr Russell announced via Twitter on Friday morning that he was “hugely privileged” to have held the post for 1,815 days, and gave his good wishes to his successor in “a wonderful job”.

He has been replaced by Angela Constance, who previously held the portfolio for training, youth and women’s employment.

Following Friday’s announcement, Ms Sturgeon thanked both Mr Russell and Kenny MacAskill, who lost his position as cabinet secretary for justice, for their “sterling service”, and revealed that both men had told her they wanted to leave their posts.

Speaking after details of Ms Sturgeon’s new-look cabinet were confirmed, Mr Russell said he planned to “work even harder” for his constituents in Argyll and Bute, and revealed that he plans to stand again to represent the constituency at the next Holyrood election in 2016.

“It has been an enormous privilege to serve as a Scottish Government minister in three different portfolios - environment, culture, external affairs and the constitution, and education and lifelong learning - for the past seven and a half years,” he said.

“My five years as education secretary was a learning experience in every way, but I recently decided that whilst I fully intend to stand again for Argyll and Bute at the Scottish Parliament elections in 18 months’ time, I would not wish to go into Government for a third term, given the demands of serving such a huge and varied constituency, as well as travelling the length and breadth of Scotland (and sometimes overseas) as a minister.

“Nicola’s election as Scotland’s first female first minister was bound to produce an early reshuffle so I took this ideal opportunity to step down at a time when a new education secretary could have the chance to establish herself in the run up to 2016 as well as bring a fresh approach and fresh ideas to what is one of the most wide ranging and demanding of roles.

“Angela Constance will be great at the job and of course worked within the portfolio for several years. So it is time for the torch to pass to her.

“When I first became a minister I was a regional member for the south of Scotland, though I have lived in Argyll for over 20 years. I was very fortunate to be chosen to succeed Jim Mather in 2010 and move seats, but that move brought many new responsibilities, not least the imperative to hold surgeries, visit constituents and attend events in every part of the county.

“That presents particular challenges given that Argyll and Bute has a coastline longer than France, over 20 inhabited islands and on the mainland includes Kintyre, Oban and Lorne, Cowal and Mid Argyll - each of them bigger than many whole constituencies in other parts of the country.

“My greatest honour is to have been chosen to speak up for the people of Argyll and Bute in the national parliament of Scotland. Serving them - all of them - was and is my first priority. It is what I have been doing and will go on doing.

“Indeed I am now going to work even harder for everyone here in order to live up to the extraordinary trust this area has placed in me and for which I am always grateful.”

Elsewhere in Ms Sturgeon’s reshuffle, former transport minister Keith Brown will retain overall responsibility for Scotland’s ferry services after being promoted to a new cabinet secretary portfolio for ‘Infrastructure, Investment and Cities’ portfolio, though the appointment with potentially greatest significance for Bute is that of Derek Mackay, former local government minister, to the position of junior minister for transport and the islands.

Mr Mackay visited Bute in May of this year to discuss proposals to give more powers to Scotland’s island communities.