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What does Nicola Sturgeon’s reshuffle mean for indyref2?

Nicola Sturgeon's cabinet after reshuffle

Get back to the day job. It’s the one piece of advice the First Minister’s opponents have offered her in near-unison.

Put the constitutional histrionics to one side and focus on governing Scotland. To be fair, you can see why she indulges in the fantasies of independence - the day job looks a bit too hard for her and her hapless band of ministers. Education standards falling despite being made a priority. Waiting times in the NHS getting longer and GP appointments a pipe dream. And the economy - bumping a full percentage point below the rest of the country.

There were finally signs that she was taking that advice. After weeks of the Growth Commission, power grabs and conference bravado, she is setting about reshuffling her team.

In come three women - Jeane Freeman, Shirley-Anne Somerville and Aileen Campbell - all with promising reputations and useful junior ministerial experience. And Humza Yousaf.

Out goes Shona Robison, Sturgeon’s friend and long-serving Health Secretary. Her record on every level is abominable and she never looked like getting to grips with it. Hopefully Jeanne Freeman can bring some purpose and energy to this important role and not spend all of her time defending the record of Nicola Sturgeon’s time as health secretary, like Shona Robison seemed to do.

Joining her on the backbenches will be Angela Constance, whose has failed to make any real impression during her eight years in government. Responsibility for housing, planning and local government will now pass to Aileen Campbell while Shirley Anne Somerville will lead on social security.

The most curious exit is Keith Brown, the newly-elected SNP Depute Leader. As figurehead for the Scottish economy, its hard to argue he has been a success. Scotland’s economic figures are appalling and his Comical Ali turn when the latest bulletins were published were legendary. That job now falls to Derek Mackay on top of his finance role.

Yet he remains an effective media performer, popular among the SNP rank and file and well thought of among stake-holders. Rather than going to the backbenches, he will now be ‘standing campaign manager’ for the SNP rather than a government minister, pay drop and all.

So what does this mean? Has a potential rival to Nicola Sturgeon been cut down to size and handed the hospital ball of whipping up indyref2 fever? Or is she serious about driving for a second referendum and put one of her most effective operators in the role without the distractions of government?

As ever, both of these things could be true. Time and time again, Nicola Sturgeon has arranged her team with presentation in mind. To the ‘day job’ critics she can point to her fresh new team. To those baying for indyref2, she has a message for them with Keith Brown’s new enhanced role.

For the time being, she can look both ways on indyref2 and keep her options open. The can kicked down road a little more. Yet the only way we will ever see progress on the areas that matter from the new cabinet secretaries will be when Nicola Sturgeon finally takes a referendum off the table and lets Scotland move on.

Keith Brown is now in charge of building the case for Scottish Independence.

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