New Scottish Leader Assembles First Gender Balanced Cabinet

Newly elected party leader Nicola Sturgeon smiles at the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) annual conference in Perth November 15, 2014. Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon has reshuffled the country's ministerial cabinet to create a 50/50 gender balance, with four men and four women now serving in government along with her and her male deputy, a week after being sworn in.

In a statement on Friday Sturgeon unveiled her new line-up, saying it is "a clear demonstration that this government will work hard in all areas to promote women, to create gender equality and it sends out a strong message that we will start the business of redressing the gender balance in public life starts right here in government."

The reshuffle sees John Swinney MSP for Perthsire North appointed as Sturgeon's deputy, with Michael Matheson and Shona Robison taking over from former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and former health secretary Alex Neil respectively.

Mike Russell who made way for Angela Constance as education secretary, tweeted his endorsement for the new 'gender balanced' cabinet, calling it a "vital step forward by Nicola Sturgeon".

Congratulations & good wishes to all in the new gender balanced Scottish Cabinet ; a vital and influential step forward by @NicolaSturgeon

— Michael Russell (@Feorlean) November 21, 2014

MSP for Clackmannanshire and Dunblane Keith Brown is now secretary for infrastructure while the new secretary for fair work, skills and training will be Roseanna Cunningham whose responsibilities will include women's employment and the living wage.

Richard Lochhead remains as environment secretary and Fiona Hyslop remains secretary for culture.

Despite the reshuffle seeing an increase of women in Scotland's government, Nicola Sturgeon insisted that "every member of the cabinet is part of this government's top team on merit, on the basis of the excellent work they have already done as ministers". Her comments echoed her speech during her own appointment as first minister last week when her predecessor Alex Salmond officially stepped down from the position at the Scottish National Party (SNP) conference in Perth.

Last week Sturgeon, who is already the first and only woman to have served as first minister of Scotland accused the UK coalition government of leaving women worse off, saying it is women who "bear the brunt of Tory welfare cuts".

Sturgeon also said that she considers her appointment as Scotland's most senior minister is a message to "all girls and women" that "if you are good enough and work hard enough, you can achieve anything".

In response to her comments, a Conservative party spokesperson told Newsweek: "It's under this government that we see a record number of women in work, with over 770,000 more women in jobs since 2010 and more women in full-time work than ever before."

"While others talk the talk, we are getting on with delivering our long-term economic plan and ensuring equal opportunities for men and women in all aspects of their lives in order to secure a better future for Britain," the spokesperson added.

The current Westminster coalition government has not proven popular among Scots, particularly since party leaders have yet to deliver devolutionary powers as promised as part of the 'No' campaign in September's independence referendum.

Scotland voted against independence by 55% against and 45% for it.

In an Ipsos Mori poll at the end of last month on how Scots would vote in the UK general election if it were held then and not in May 2015, 52% said they would vote for the SNP, 23% for the Labour party, while only 16% would vote for either the ruling coalition parties - Conservative Party or the Liberal Democrats.