The decision of Nicola Sturgeon to step down as First Minister was certainly a surprise. Maybe not a complete shock for those privileged to work in proximity to her or who had sampled the pressures of ministerial life themselves, but certainly a big surprise.
From a personal perspective, to have emerged from the events that followed her resignation, by returning to a role in Government, whilst perhaps not as big a surprise as her departure, was certainly unexpected. While the then First Minister had kindly left the door open for me to do just that when I stepped down as Transport Minister in January 2022, nothing could have been further from my mind then or in the months that followed.
I was genuinely enjoying life on the backbenches. It wasn’t as demanding or fulfilling as my two ministerial roles had been but I was embracing life away from the front bench. However, the clash of perspectives that characterised the SNP leadership contest really invigorated me. The closeness of the outcome left me wanting to maximise my contribution to the task facing the new leadership.
There is of course a world of a difference between wanting to get back to the front line and being called up! So as Humza Yousaf was formulating plans for his ministerial team I genuinely had no expectation of a return to Government.
To be afforded such an opportunity came as much as a nice surprise as the welcome fresh challenge I probably needed. A breakfast time call inviting me to meet the First Minister set the wheels in motion.
Whilst I could not have anticipated being asked to take on the role or Minister for Higher and Further Education and Minister for Veterans - given my developing immersion in Education (I’d been serving on the parliamentary committee) and my having previously covered the vets brief, it seemed a logical fit. And one I didn’t hesitate to agree to, especially given the full extent of the remit and the fact I have retained a real passion for all matters veterans-related.
So having spent the Easter break getting up to speed (hopefully) I’m raring to go for the resumption of Parliament.