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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 May 2007, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
New-look cabinet cut down to size
Andrew Black
Political reporter
BBC Scotland news website

Fairness, decency and cronyism, all mixed in with a mischievous helping of sarcasm and good-natured banter.
John Swinney
John Swinney's responsibilities came under discussion

That was the order of the day as MSPs gathered to debate SNP First Minister Alex Salmond's new dream team.

Liberal Democrat Tavish Scott went tearing through various members of the new Scottish government, but nothing seemed to exercise him more than the size of finance secretary John Swinney's package... of executive responsibilities.

"John Swinney is a fair and decent man," said the former transport minister.

"I reflected this morning on Mr Swinney's fairness and his decency as his ministerial Volvo swept past the bus I was on."

Mr Scott, who said that just reading out the former SNP leader's list of jobs would take four minutes, also lamented that Fergus Ewing, previously Nationalist transport spokesman, had not continued that specialism in government.

He added: "As minister for community safety, Scotland's neighbourhood watch schemes will be in good hands."

Pilot's licence

Mr Scott then swivelled his sights to Mr Swinney's juniors, asking when the business-like Enterprise Minister Jim Mather's PowerPoint presentation screen would be installed in the chamber for future debates.

And he pointed out that Stewart Stevenson, known as a man of many careers, had achieved a first as a transport minister with a pilot's licence.

Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser's target was Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead, after he initially put forward an amendment to have him "deleted".

"I should make it clear that neither I or my party bear any particular ill will towards Richard Lochhead," said Mr Fraser.

"He has had his reward for years of slavish loyalty to his leader and we wish him well."

Tavish Scott
Tavish Scott was relieved for neighbourhood watch schemes

Mr Fraser also expressed his sympathy for Mr Swinney.

The Conservative said having to sit in the same government as environment minister and former SNP leadership contender Mike Russell was "punishment enough".

"A man," said Mr Fraser, "who despite all his many qualities possesses only a passing acquaintance with the concept of slavish loyalty."

And where Mr Scott failed, Labour leader Jack McConnell triumphed by managing to read out a large portion of Mr Swinney's brief.

Just for the record, it covers: "The economy, the Scottish Budget, public service reform, de-regulation, local government, public service delivery, cities and community planning, GRO, ROS, relocation, e-government, SPPA, procurement, budgetary monitoring, business and industry including Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise' trade and inward investment, corporate social responsibility, voluntary sector and the social economy, community business and co-operative development, European Structural Funds, energy, tourism, land use planning system, climate change, building standards, transport policy and delivery, public transport, road, rail services, air and ferry services and Scottish Water."

The former first minister, who once gave Wendy Alexander ministerial responsibility for enterprise, lifelong learning and transport at once, quipped: "Not even Wendy, I don't think, could handle that responsibility."

Mr Salmond, more than happy to defend his cabinet set-up, said Mr Scott had taken wonderfully to opposition, adding: "I now see why you were so keen on going there."

He said that if prime minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown was said to have a brain the size of Mars, then Mr Swinney had a work rate "the size of Jupiter".

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