Nicola Sturgeon is leaving her role as Health Secretary to mastermind the Government’s campaign for independence.

Ms Sturgeon will remain Deputy First Minister and take on responsibility for driving the flagship Referendum Bill through Holyrood. She had held the post since 2007, making her Scotland's longest serving health secretary.

The move comes days after Alex Salmond’s chief spin doctor, Kevin Pringle, left the Government to become the SNP’s communications chief at party HQ.

Ms Sturgeon will also become Infrastructure, Investment and Cities Secretary, focusing on economic recovery. In a job swap, Alex Neil takes over as Health Secretary, with the suppport of  existing junior ministers, Sports Minister Shona Robison and Public Health Minister Michael Matheson.

Ms Sturgeon's junior ministers will be Keith Brown, Minister for Transport and Veterans, and Margaret Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South, who will become new Minister for Housing and Welfare, reflecting the importance of housing in aiding economic recovery and also the challenges facing those in poverty.

Bruce Crawford  is to retire from his role as Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business and Government Strategy. Brian Adam will be stepping down as Minister for Parliamentary Business  and will be replaced by Joe Fitzpatrick, MSP for Dundee City West. He will attend Cabinet and report to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Stewart Stevenson will be stepping down as Minister for Environment and Climate Change and will be replaced by Paul Wheelhouse, MSP for South Scotland, who will report to Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Richard Lochhead.

Humza Yousaf, MSP for Glasgow, joins the Government as Minister for External Affairs and International Development, reporting to Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop.

The other Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers will remain.

First Minister Alex Salmond said the changes had been made in line with taking forward the Programme for Government which was announced on Tuesday, and preparing Scotland for the independence referendum in 2014.

In her new job, Ms Sturgeon is expected to meet Scotland Office minister David Mundell tomorrow for talks about how the referendum should be staged.

There will be a Cabinet of eight members; the First Minister and seven Cabinet Secretaries. This compares with 10 during the administration of Donald Dewar, and 11 during Henry McLeish's and Jack McConnell's terms as First Minister.

Reflecting the pay freeze taken by the Scottish Government for the past three years, all Cabinet Secretaries, Ministers (and Law Officers) will receive a salary at the April 1 2008 level, both for their Ministerial and MSP salary.

Mr Salmond said: "This strong ministerial team will take this Government forward in meeting the economic and social challenges we face while creating a better Scotland for future generations.

"As Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon has demonstrated what can be achieved when Scotland has responsibility for its own affairs. She has delivered record low waiting times and protected the NHS from the creeping privatisation of the UK Government.

"As Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, she will have a lead role in our programme for economic recovery. With responsibility for Government strategy and the constitution, she will also lead in making the positive case for Scotland's future.

"Alex Neil has delivered the biggest infrastructure investment programme in Scotland's history against a backdrop of budget cuts from Westminster. In taking forward Nicola Sturgeon's substantial achievements as Health Secretary, he will ensure that Scotland's health service continues to have the strongest possible leadership.

"In 2014, the people of Scotland will have the chance to seize the biggest opportunity in 300 years and ensure that Scotland's future is in Scotland's hands. Over the next two years, this Government will set out the positive case for independence and present the real choice facing Scotland's electorate between decisions about Scotland being taken by the people of Scotland or continued control from Westminster."