AFTER the night of the long knives, it was the day of the tender handshakes as David Cameron changed the guard and put in place the more youthful and female team he hopes will convince voters to put him back in Downing Street next May.

William Hague's surprise resignation as Foreign Secretary meant the ministerial shake-up has been far more extensive than anyone had envisaged.

But the appointment of his successor, Philip Hammond, pitched the reshuffle into the heart of the independence referendum debate.

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The former Defence Secretary famously suggested that, if the in-out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU were tomorrow, he would vote to leave if no real reform were achieved.

First Minister Alex Salmond took no time to insist Mr Hammond's promotion had thus "put one hand on the exit door leading the UK out of the European Union". In another move seen to have a Eurosceptic slant, Dominic Grieve was sacked from the legal post of Attorney General.

The Buckinghamshire MP was seen by some Conservative rightwingers as a block to withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights. The Tories want to repatriate powers from Strasbourg to Westminster because they feel the convention has made it more difficult for the UK to deport terror suspects.

Another intriguing move, which could also play into the referendum debate, was the surprise shift for Michael Gove from Education Secretary to Chief Whip. His radical time in shaking up education south of the border just made too many enemies among teachers.

No 10 played up the new roles of Mr Hague and Mr Gove, who will now lead the election charge against Labour. The new Chief Whip will, we are told, become a more familiar face as he effectively becomes Minister for TV.

As a Scot, we could be seeing more of Mr Gove in the final run-in to September 18.

But will the Cabinet shake-up have any real impact on the referendum battle ahead?

Certainly, new Cabinet members like Liz Truss and Nicky Morgan will have to engage in the Scottish debate at some stage but, in doing so, they will also have to ensure they observe the first rule of government - don't mess up.