Shaking it up

Nicola Sturgeon, Humza Yousaf, Alex Neil and Paul Wheelhouse
Image caption It is new roles for Nicola Sturgeon, Humza Yousaf, Alex Neil and Paul Wheelhouse

There is a charming little ditty from the musical "Annie get your Gun" in which two rivals chide each other with the refrain "anything you can do, I can do better".

Perhaps Alex Salmond might be tempted to hum a few random bars as he contemplates the substantial changes to his ministerial outfit - just a day after David Cameron essayed an exercise in refreshing his own team.

The circumstances, admittedly, are somewhat different. Mr Cameron has the persistent joy of coalition - obliged - nay, charmed - to consult and, occasionally, defer to his Liberal Democrat chums. By contrast, Mr Salmond governs tout seul.

However, there is one similarity. Both must simply hope that the changes they have made will assist in the fundamental purpose of government, of all governments - which is to sustain popularity and remain in office.

At the core of today's reshuffle are two big changes -the departure from office of Bruce Crawford after an extended period of distinguished service; and the strategic role given to Nicola Sturgeon with regard to the referendum.

Personal decision

Firstly, Mr Crawford. He has been a bedrock of the SNP administration from the very earliest days, deploying a blend of easy affability, integrity and tough politics. In minority government, he was simply invaluable - striking complex deals on all sides in order to protect as much as possible of the government's programme.

Image copyright PA
Image caption This is the first significant reshuffle by Alex Salmond since the SNP took power in 2007

Alex Salmond has noted, rightly, that Mr Crawford is respected across party divisions. It is also true that he has been key to the necessary back-stage dealings between the Scottish and UK governments. In many respects, he has been the "usual channels" which are vital to such relationships.

His decision is personal, driven by family bereavement and the wish to pursue a slightly more settled life. Equally, however, it is the case that his biggest tasks are behind him - minority rule, the Scotland Act which upgrades Holyrood's powers and the groundwork for a deal between Edinburgh and London over the referendum.

Next, Ms Sturgeon. It is probably sensible that she 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. Alex Salmond in overall command, his deputy as the day-to-day minister and Kevin Pringle starting work next week back at the SNP, co-ordinating party effort on the referendum after demitting his government post.

To those who are departing, all the best. To those who are entering government for the first time, congratulations.

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