Wanted: a Cory Booker type for the Scottish Cabinet
This week, the Scottish Government gets back to business. Alex Salmond will be elected First Minister, one presumes without opposition. He will then announce his Cabinet.
The temptation might be to expand his Ministerial team given the riches he has to choose from, but this is unlikely. The SNP stood on a platform of belt-tightening, including at the top. He might not expand the number of Cabinet portfolios but there is the option of bringing in a few more junior Ministers to even out loads a little. That would be a good thing, allowing folk to concentrate on several key issues rather than spread themselves too thinly. Alex Neil, as Communities Minister, did a great job on housing but rather left other issues in his portfolio – equality, poverty, localism - to wither on the vine. In any event, there are some great SNP budget and manifesto ideas on housing and regeneration that will demand more of his attention if he returns, not less, so adding another Depute to Nicola Sturgeon might be helpful.
It’s hard to see who should come in and who should go out. There are plenty in the former group who would make at the very least, a decent fist of promotion, but in the latter, who out of the previous Ministerial team should be demoted? Yet, Alex Salmond must change the faces: not to do so now will actually make it much harder to do so in the course of the next five years, unless there is some kind of forced resignation.
Shona Robison is one who deserves a tilt at a Cabinet portfolio all of her own. She and Nicola Sturgeon make a very good team but Shona is talented and experienced enough to deserve full responsibilities of her own. The burd has already made a plea for Adam Ingram to return as Children’s Minister. Is anyone likely to usurp John Swinney as Cabinet Secretary for Finance? I doubt it.
The First Minister might also want to consider his own position and how he plays it. The Presidential campaign worked: Salmond the statesman versus the also-rans left no competition. There might be something in him maintaining this allure in the next five years, to truly present himself as the leader of a nation, rather than just the leader of a government who is required to get his hands dirty every Thursday by swatting off the opposition. The Depute First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, could handle FMQs and some of the less presidential aspects of First Minister-hood with aplomb.
Moreover, for all that the FM is the ultimate showman, I wonder if Scotland might benefit from a Cory Booker type of Minister in the Scottish Government? As a city mayor in a foreign land with a very different state provision to work with, this might seem an odd proposition. But Booker has effectively made himself a champion of engagement. He has taken several key policy strands and by leading and championing them, he has engaged others in making them work. Thus, Let’s Move was a very personal attempt to encourage the residents of Newark to engage in physical exercise and eat more healthily. He set his own personal challenge and encouraged others to join him. The latest one is to encourage people to get involved in community action and mentoring of vulnerable children and young people. Both activities absolutely in synch with the kind of community development and localism that the SNP wishes to encourage.
It all happens on a smaller scale of course, in Newark, but the principles of engagement and championing could work for Scotland. How about a series of regional champions, or simply to create a Minister for Engagement who then rolls out similar type of activities and policies for constituency MSPs - who need to turn surprise wins into safe bets in the next five years – to champion locally. Cory Booker is of course one of the digital Mayors who *gets* social media and how to use it. Having dipped their toes in this water during the election campaign, the SNP Government could use it to pretty devastating effect to engage large sections of the population in innovative ways.
And if they really want to know how to do it, they might want to get the great Mayor of Newark over here to explain it and show them how. A transatlantic initiative of the best kind!