New Special Adviser appointment to Education and Lifelong Learning portfolio
A written answer in the Scottish Parliament on 2 April (S4W-25214: see here) usefully provides an updated list of special advisers to Scottish government ministers. The question was asked by Bill Kidd MSP, a government backbencher, and therefore is probably what’s technically termed an “inspired” PQ, that is, one the government is using to place something formally on the record.
The answer lists 11 long-standing special advisers, plus two newly-appointed as of 1 April 2015. The new appointees are Jeanette Campbell for Social Justice and Kate Higgins for Education and Lifelong Learning.There does not seem to have been any other announcement about these appointments.
The education brief is clearly central to the Scottish Government’s current narrative, with major initiatives recently announced on widening access to higher education and closing the attainment gap in schools.
The SG website entry on Special Advisers has not yet been updated from February, so it can be seen that Kate Higgins assumes responsibilities in this area from Colin McAllister, who remains a special adviser but without the education brief.
Given there was some activity on Twitter last month about her possible appointment, it seems fairly likely this is the prominent SNP-supporting commentator and political blogger of the same name. Kate Higgins is a political campaigner, with a recent background in children’s charities (she has also been briefly profiled by the Guardian here). Jeanette Campbell appears likely to be the former director of public affairs at Citizens Advice Scotland and former Head of Research for the SNP parliamentary group.
Special advisers can play a critical, if largely unseen, role in government policy-making. Together with parliamentary aides (for Education and Lifelong Learning, George Adam MSP: for more on parliamentary aides in general, and their particular importance within the Holyrood committee system, see here) they provide ministers with additional, essential political backroom support. Special advisers are temporary civil service appointments and therefore subject to certain restrictions, including:
Special advisers must not take part in national political activities, which are:holding, in a party political organisation, office which impinges wholly or mainly on party politics in the field of Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly or the European Parliament; speaking in public on matters of national political controversy; expressing views on such matters in letters to the Press, or in books, articles or leaflets; being announced publicly as a candidate or prospective candidate for Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly or the European Parliament; and canvassing on behalf of a candidate for the institutions or on behalf of a political party.
Clues to Kate Higgins’ position on particular educational issues are limited. Her blog, Burdzeyeview, doesn’t have much education material on it (here are the couple of items tagged on that theme), but one from March 2012 discusses progress on the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence and she has also supported free music tuition for children (which doesn’t come up among the articles tagged as education on the blog, so there may be more there on this topic). Her book, Generation Scot Y, contains some brief discussion of tuition fees and Scotland’s failure to close the attainment gap. Her author profile on the Herald site describes her as “passionate about social justice” and she has written on children’s rights and social justice, although this recent piece on foodbanks attracted some criticism from the director of the Trussel Trust.
There was some criticism at the start of this year when the number of Special Advisers reportedly rose to 14. However, the numbers in the Herald article are different from those in the PQ answer, which suggests that only 11 advisers were in post after the change of First Minister: there are now 13.