This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.


Meet the new boss. The same as the old boss.  

Humza Yousaf was forced into a little makeshift DIY yesterday, assembling a new cabinet on the fly after the sudden/coming for months resignation of ‚Äėman of honesty and integrity‚Äô Michael Matheson. ¬†

The beleaguered Health secretary sent himself to the sidelines ahead of a possible red card over a report into an £11k data roaming bill racked up on his parliamentary iPad, accrued by his kids watching football while on holiday in Morrocco 

Into this vacancy steps Humza’s chief ally Neil Gray, the man who masterminded his leadership campaign and rise to First Minister.  

READ MORE:¬†Erdońüan stunt proves Humza Yousaf is out of his depth

Mr Gray, a former MP who made the switch to Holyrood, is something of a novice at Holyrood, having only been elected in 2021.  

But he paved the way for Humza to open the doors of Bute House, while fellow hopefuls Ash Regan ‚Äď now of Alba ‚Äď and Kate Forbes wandered into dangerous territory¬†pockmarked with independence thermometers and hardline religious views. ¬†

Now in command of a multi-billion pound budget and possibly the most challenging and much-criticised brief, Mr Gray finds himself in the hottest of hotseats after a stint as the wellbeing economy, fair work and energy secretary. 

The Herald: Neil Gray backed Humza Yousaf in the leadership campaign Neil Gray backed Humza Yousaf in the leadership campaign (Image: PA)

Whenever comes next, he can be sure to count on the support of the First Minister, a man he calls ‚Äėboss‚Äô informally, and who backed the previous incumbent to the post when things were unravelling, perhaps unwisely. ¬†¬†

While there was one backbencher who moving up - Kaukab Stewart,¬†promoted into the Government to become the new international development minister and becoming the first woman of colour to hold a post in the Scottish Government ‚Ästthere was still room for another well-kent face to join the top table. ¬†

Fiona Hyslop, a cabinet minister under Salmond and Sturgeon, completed her hat-trick of SNP First Ministers by joining the cabinet as Transport secretary, having been on the subs bench at ministerial level.    

But what’s more interesting about the cabinet is who isn’t in it. Aside from Kaukab Stewart, none of the rank-and-file SNP MSPs awoke this morning to a new brief, and there was no place for Kate Forbes, Mr Yousaf’s closest rival in the leadership race.  

The Herald: Humza unveils his new cabinet Humza unveils his new cabinet (Image: PA)

The tearooms and digital corridors of Holyrood buzzed with gossip that the former Finance Secretary was going to be brought in from the cold in this reshuffle, which to onlookers made sense.  

Regarded as one the of the brains behind Sturgeon’s cabinet, her stint as bookkeeper-in-chief showed her to be a safe pair of hands, and that high profile has hardly diminished since she lost out to Humza in the race to be First Minister.  

Indeed, Mr Yousaf previously valued her skills highly enough to ask her to be cabinet secretary for rural affairs, a post she turned down, regarding it as a demotion.  

READ MORE: Justice Committee has risen to task when others fail

Apparently one of the few members of the Scottish Government to not delete her Whatsapp messages, Ms Forbes emerged from the Covid inquiry untarnished, enduring none of the bruising headlines which followed Humza’s appearance before the inquisitors.  

But there are other reasons promoting the former leadership candidate made sense. Joining the cabinet would also have bound Ms Forbes through collective responsibility, stopping her from criticising Scottish Government policy.  

The Herald: Kate Forbes can speak freely on the backbenches Kate Forbes can speak freely on the backbenches (Image: PA)

Previously, she has been vocal over her disdain for the pact with the Scottish Greens ‚Äď a fault line for many in the party ‚Äď and opposed moves to introduce higher tax bands, something she says is counter-productive and could see Scotland‚Äôs coffers actually lose money. ¬†

A battle will soon loom on moves to ban conversion therapy in Scotland, and Ms Forbes will be free to speak against the bill, having said she would not have backed proposed gender recognition reforms due to her religious beliefs.   

Had she been asked back into government, this could have been nipped in the bud. 

It’s often said in politics you should keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Could be that Humza Yousaf has just got it half right.