Neil Gray replaces Michael Matheson as Scottish health secretary

Neil Gray
Neil Gray has been in government since 2022

Neil Gray has been appointed as Scotland's health secretary following the resignation of Michael Matheson.

Mr Gray, who led Humza Yousaf's SNP leadership campaign last year, had been the wellbeing economy, fair work and energy secretary since last March.

Mr Matheson quit ahead of the release of a report into an £11k data roaming bill racked up on his parliamentary iPad.

Elena Whitham also resigned as drugs minister this week for health reasons.

Mr Yousaf, the first minister, has reshuffled his government ministers after Mr Matheson quit on Thursday morning. The changes include:

  • Mairi McAllan has taken over the economy role, combined with her current net zero brief, becoming the wellbeing economy, net zero and energy secretary.

  • Her responsibilities for transport are to be passed to her minister Fiona Hyslop, who is being promoted from transport minister to transport secretary.

  • Kaukab Stewart - the first woman of colour to enter the Scottish government - will be minister for culture, Europe and international development.

  • She will replace Christina McKelvie, who was given Ms Whitham's former drugs and alcohol brief.

  • And Perthshire South and Kinross-shire MSP Jim Fairlie - who supported Kate Forbes in the leadership race when she stood against Mr Yousaf - is to join the government as the minister for agriculture and connectivity.

Parliament will be asked to approve the appointments of new ministers Ms Hyslop, Mr Fairlie and Ms Stewart.

scottish cabinet
Mr Yousaf unveiled his new cabinet team on Thursday afternoon

Mr Matheson announced he was standing down because he said he did not want a row over the bill - incurred during a family holiday to Morocco - to become a distraction from the government's work.

The £11,000 bill was initially paid out of the public purse.

When details of the fees emerged in November, Mr Matheson said the device had been used exclusively for parliamentary work.

He later admitted his sons had used the iPad's data as a hotspot to watch football matches. He apologised and repaid the fees.

The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) has been investigating whether Mr Matheson made an improper expenses claim.

Michael Matheson
Health Secretary Michael Matheson said he did not want to become a distraction for the government

The SNP MSP was told on Thursday that he would shortly be issued with a draft report of the investigation's provisional findings. He has been given two weeks to respond.

Mr Matheson had served as a government minister for more than 12 years, including almost a year as health secretary.

Mr Gray was an MP from 2015 to 2021, when he quit Westminster to seek election to the Scottish Parliament.

After winning the Airdrie and Shotts seat, he was appointed minister for culture, Europe and international development in January 2022. He was later given ministerial responsibility for Ukrainian refugees.

Ms Hyslop, who stepped down from the government after 14 years in 2021, returned to government as transport minister in June under then transport secretary Ms McAllan.

Ms McAllan joined the government in March, becoming Scotland's first net zero and just transition secretary at the age of 30. The transport brief was added to her role in June.

Meghan Gallacher, the deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, told BBC Radio Scotland's Drivetime programme she found it "extraordinary" that Mr Yousaf had stood by Matheson over the iPad bill.

She said Mr Matheson had been been distracted from his job for months, adding: "He should have been sacked and that's down to Humza Yousaf being weak."

Ms Gallacher also said Neil Gray had a "tough job ahead of him" to drive down A&E waiting times and NHS waiting lists.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: "This weak first minister can reshuffle the pack all he wants - the fact is that all the cards left are jokers.

"After 17 years it is clear that this tired SNP government is out of ideas and out of road."

Who is Neil Gray?

By Andrew Kerr, Scottish political correspondent

Neil Gray is a relative newcomer to Holyrood and now finds himself in charge of a multi-billion pound health budget.

He became a member of the Scottish Parliament in 2021 - after quitting his Westminster Airdrie and Shotts seat.

After a stint at the BBC he worked for the former health secretary, Alex Neil, in his constituency.

He is close to Humza Yousaf and his nickname for the first minister is "Boss".

When Nicola Sturgeon resigned he received a positive response from members but backed Humza Yousaf for the top job.

Perhaps that though could indicate a well-spring of support if there was ever a vacancy for first minister? He's a capable and confident performer in front of a microphone and now takes on the most challenging brief in devolved government.