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Weighing up the two cabinets

Writing: Tom Wileman

Whilst the constant stream of Brexit news seems to be (temporarily) slowing down, the papers were kept entertained by two cabinet reshuffles in recent weeks. Firstly from Boris Johnson’s Westminster government, following the Conservatives’ resounding victory in the December general election. The SNP, on the other hand, have somewhat been forced into a reshuffle, after the resignation of Derek Mackay. It surfaced the day before the budget was due to be announced that Mackay had sent hundreds of unsolicited messages to a sixteen-year-old boy.

How do these two cabinets stack up against each other? Well, Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet is now majority female (7 out of 12), whilst women fill just 6 of the 22 places in the Westminster cabinet. This is a slight downgrade on Theresa May’s premiership. Women occupy very high-level roles in both cabinets: Kate Forbes’ recent appointment as Finance Minister means she joins Nicola Sturgeon (First Minister), Fiona Hyslop (Economy, Fair Work and Culture), and Roseanna Cunningham (Environment, Climate Change, and Land Reform) in government. Further south, Priti Patel occupies the Home Office, Liz Truss is in the especially key role of International Trade Secretary, and Suella Braverman is the new Attorney General.

It is encouraging that a fair amount of responsibility in the British cabinet falls on BAME ministers; Rishi Sunak joins Patel in one of the ‘Great Offices of State’, following his surprise promotion to Chancellor last week. Braverman and Alok Sharma (Business Secretary) are both also of Indian origin. In Scotland, Humza Yousaf occupies the cabinet position for Justice, but there are no fellow BAME members in the Scottish cabinet. Yousaf was actually the first ethnic minority politician to be elected into the Scottish Parliament, back in 2016.

But what does any of this actually mean? Does any of it matter? Representation of all genders and ethnicities is important; it creates unique and representative perspectives on common issues. But the conduct of much of the British government seems to fly in the face of this logic. Both Sajid Javid, former Chancellor, and Priti Patel, have admitted that their increasingly restrictive policies would have barred their own parents from immigrating. This comes hot upon the still smouldering embers of the Windrush scandal, in which Carribean immigrants were wrongly detained, and often deported, from the United Kingdom. What good is representation of oppressed people, if the actions betray the ethos?

Notably, the Scottish government seems more progressive on issues of gender and sexuality, and this may be due to the prominence of women in the SNP cabinet; Scotland is the first nation in the world to offer free sanitary products in all schools, colleges, and universities, and they have consistently opposed the ‘Tampon Tax’.

Whilst both governments may have different social aims, regardless of the demographic makeup, both reshuffles share similarities; to a cynical (or maybe seasoned) observer, it appears both Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon feel compelled to consolidate power. Johnson has been accused of putting inexperienced members into ministerial positions, such as the inexperienced Sunak. Sturgeon’s position as First Minister is looking increasingly unstable, and after the scandal with Derek Mackay, she may begin to wonder how long she will have undisturbed as First Minister.

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