Scottish Lib Dem Jo Swinson is touted for ministerial fast track
JO SWINSON is being touted as a replacement for Michael Moore as Scottish Secretary in a UK government reshuffle expected over the summer as the Lib Dems seek to end the embarrassment of having no women from their party in the cabinet.
According to a source close to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Swinson, the MP for East Dunbartonshire, who from 2005 to 2009 was the youngest MP in the House of Commons, has impressed the party leadership since the Tory- Lib Dem coalition came together in 2010.
In particular, her decision not to rebel over the coalition decision to increase university tuition fees, despite building a political career on trying to get them scrapped, marked her out for promotion with the leadership of both parties.
Swinson, who last year married MP Duncan Hames, is Clegg’s parliamentary private secretary and has played a key role in the Cabinet Office.
While it is understood that she would prefer a brief in the Foreign Office, she is seen as “having the necessary toughness” to take the lead in the Scotland Office as the government gears up for the Scottish independence referendum.
Moore is seen as “a safe pair of hands,” according to a senior source, and managed to get the Scotland Act, which gave more devolutionary powers to Holyrood, through Westminster. But there have been concerns in Downing Street that his approach to fighting the SNP’s referendum plans is “over cautious.”
As a result, he has twice been embarrassed by announcements by David Cameron – on the date and on giving Holyrood the legal powers to hold a referendum – without a pre-briefing from the Prime Minister’s office.
Cameron is expected to announce his reshuffle after the Olympics and to move on Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who critics say has been damaged by his role in Rupert Murdoch’s failed bid for overall control of media company BskyB.
Insiders believe this would be the only time when it would be possible to have a change in the Scotland Office without damaging the pro-UK campaign, which launched in Scotland last month.
It is understood that if Moore were to be moved he would probably go to the Ministry of Defence as a minister of state but may retain a place at cabinet meetings.
The other contender for his job is Orkney MP Alistair Carmichael, who is seen as being a tough and likeable option to take on the Nationalists and is well regarded by both coalition parties in his role as deputy chief whip.
However, Swinson is the current frontrunner because some see her as a possible future party leader. It is thought that the added profile may help her to hold on to her seat, which is a key Labour target. According to one source it is the issue of gender which may land her a cabinet job. “It’s tough on Mike [Moore] because he is a safe pair of hands and has got the Scotland Bill through,” the source said. “But he is over cautious and Number 10 has been getting frustrated with him.
“Most of all though, it is embarrassing that there are no Lib Dem women in the cabinet especially as we champion equality issues. Jo is really good, she is highly rated and a possible future leader. She came through the tuition fees problems well with her reputation enhanced in the leadership and she is now ready for ministerial office.”