JENNY Gilruth, now the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, gave an interesting interview last December on the subject of her then brief, that of Transport Minister under Nicola Sturgeon. She had been in the post for less than a year, and her words are an insight into this exacting job.

"Transport is 100 miles an hour, every day,” she told Holyrood magazine. “You can’t predict what’s going to happen, you have to brace yourself for that. For the first couple of weeks, I was thinking ‘when will it stop?’, but it doesn’t stop. You have to prepare yourself. That’s the thing I have really focused on over the last nine or 10 months, being prepared and trying to put my stamp on some of it".

Ms Gilruth observed that “people don’t always trust” that Scotland’s road, rail and ferry services are “going to work”. At that time - last December - bus usage and rail traffic had declined, industrial action was having an impact on rail passengers, and of course that long-festering issue of ferry procurement was then, as now, generating an endless tide of adverse headlines.

Ms Gilruth described Transport as an “enabler” in terms of personal freedoms and economic activity. She recalled, too, that poor transport links had meant that some children in the Glasgow community of Cranhill, where she became a play worker in 2006 after leaving university, had never visited the city centre.

All of this is a way of emphasising the importance and sheer breadth of the Transport portfolio. Its responsibilities touch on the everyday lives of vast numbers of Scots, regardless of where they live.

Kevin Stewart quits as transport minister

Humza Yousaf is now weighing up a replacement for Kevin Stewart, who earlier this week tendered his resignation after just two months, acknowledging that he has had bouts of low mental health since last October. The First Minister knows better than anyone the sheer demands that the Transport job makes, having endured an eventful - to say the least - two-year spell after being appointed by Ms Sturgeon in 2016. His political opponents have continued to make sport with his handling of transport-related issues.

The Herald: Kevin Stewart MSP and former Transport MinisterKevin Stewart MSP and former Transport Minister (Image: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament)The ferries fiasco betrays few signs of fading. As the Herald has revealed exclusively, the chief executive of the Scottish Government-owned firm at the centre of it received an estimated £20,000 golden hello while standing to gain up to £80,000 in bonus payments.

Ferguson Marine chief gets £20k golden hello in bonuses 'scandal'

Mr Yousaf has promised to keep an open mind on the subject of compensation payments to islanders on South Uist, whose lives have been blighted by ferry cancellations. The deeper we go into the ferry crisis, the more we have reason to doubt the SNP administration's once-proud boast that it could build an independent state in the space of 18 months.

But, as noted above, the portfolio is about substantially more than the ferries. Buses and trains need daily scrutiny, as do the plans to dual the A9 and A96. Transport connectivity is an issue that, despite the efforts made over the last few years, remains unsatisfactory. 

Why not make the next incumbent a full member of the Cabinet? It is fine for Màiri McAllan, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition to sit in the Cabinet, as her responsibilities include Transport. But why not signal that the Yousaf administration is taking the matter seriously by having the next Transport Minister sit next to her, rather than being a mere 'supporting Minister'?

Ms McAllan's own portfolio is already considerable, taking in everything from climate crisis and environmental protection to sustainable development, flood prevention and coastal erosion, and environmental and climate justice. 'Transport' gets rather lost amidst all of that.

Already there is pressure within the party for things to change. As one source told the Herald this week: "Transport is clearly a challenge. There is some talk that it should be a Cabinet role. It's absolutely critical to people and to fix it someone would need to have control over the budget, over the different agencies involved."

One SNP MSP said if the transport brief was to be a Cabunet position, the First Minister would have a wider pool of people to recruit from as some on the backbenchers had turned down junior ministerial jobs in his government.

SNP MSPs tell FM to make transport a Cabinet post to tackle ferries

The rail union ASLEF wants to see the Transport portfolio being promoted to full Cabinet level, arguing that it beggars belief that this had not yet happened. Transport, the union notes correctly, is a hugely important policy area. The Arran Ferry Action Group hit the matter on the head when it said that Transport no longer being a Cabinet post "does not give us the confidence that it is being taken seriously at government level".

Ferry debacle has made Scots transport minister 'the job few want'

It has been observed, more than once, that the ferries controversy has rendered the job something of a poisioned chalice. Mr Stewart's successor will need considerable qualities to even stand a chance of making a success of the job. But giving him or her a more visible role as a member of the Cabinet will signify that Mr Yousaf, having learned the error of his ways, is giving the portfolio the seriousness and the urgency it deserves. Someone landed with a job that proceeds at one hundred miles an hour needs all the support he or she can get.