Paul Wheelhouse MSP

Minister for Environment and Climate Change

Why I am backing Keith Brown MSP for Depute Leader of the SNP:

At the outset I will say that I consider the SNP and all of our 80,000 members are hugely fortunate to have three great candidates who could all be regarded as very worthy and well capable of the role. We are spoiled for choice and I hugely respect all three colleagues - Angela, Keith, and Stewart, all of whom I like very much.

However, here is why, rather than manufacture a critique of two other very capable colleagues, I want to focus on why I believe there are several very positive reasons Keith Brown should be our choice as Nicola's new deputy:

Firstly, the post of Depute Leader and, thereby, Deputy FM, is one that is a high pressure role and Keith is calm under fire; the Transport brief is a hugely challenging one and Keith has often had to deal with really tough issues - whether it be severe winter weather (where I have been able to see his ability at close quarters as one of the ministers involved in SGoRR meetings I have either chaired or participated in, when Keith has chaired) or landslides at the Rest and Be Thankful, or disruption to ferries or air traffic, Keith has been unflappable. Perhaps it is the perspective of his military background and past combat roles as a Marine, but Keith is rarely if ever fazed. He always seems to retain a sense of humour and is hugely respected for his handling of any crisis. No doubt his previous role as leader of Clackmannanshire Council will have given him a great grounding in a leadership capacity.

Second, Keith is an excellent performer in the Chamber - I think given the importance of Nicola having a sound deputy to cover for her when she cannot do FMQs, and on occasions when the DFM would have to lead debates for the Government, Keith has always impressed me with his skill in debates and at portfolio and general questions. I have no doubt he can and would do us proud.

Keith has a great command of detail and of his brief and that ability will be essential if he was ever having to cover for Nicola or lead in televised debates. He will be a more than capable deputy.

Keith is excellent in any media interviews and gets the message across effectively. While Stewart and Angela also impress, this is a big tick in that box too for Keith.

Keith has excellent organisational and leadership skills - his brief is highly complex and technical, it covers many very high profile major capital projects, such as the new Queensferry Crossing, Borders Rail and the contentious AWPR, among others - and while Transport Scotland and Scottish Futures Trust also deserve credit, we should recognise that as the guy at the helm, leading these projects, Keith would have been heavily criticised for any failings. Instead these complex projects are typically all on or ahead of budget and schedule. That is very impressive.

Keith has demonstrated he is trustworthy -I appreciate you will have to trust me on that, but always he has been honest with me on local issues and on national ones too. Keith's also a straight talker who has always been supportive of colleagues and a bona fide team player. That is not to imply others are not - I am sure they are great too - but I have personal experience of Keith doing so, which I am grateful for, and I again believe that is a major plus.

Keith is a real team player - he has by way of illustration been hugely supportive to me behind the scenes in helping step up our efforts on tackling climate change - very well engaged and well prepared for bilateral meetings on this key challenge we face and while he rarely if ever gets credit for it in some quarters, given the difficulties his portfolio faces on many fronts, he has always seemed open minded on taking on ideas from myself and others on issues like promotion of sustainable and active travel. Keith is now pushing hard on this and other areas, such as the roll out of electric vehicles/hybrids, including hybrid ferries, hybrid buses, EVs for car clubs etc.

Keith's constituency has both urban and rural components, such as Dunblane, and I think Keith has a good grasp of the differences - having had a portfolio that has had to tackle aspects of rurality is helpful in maintaining a balance at the highest level on policies to ensure both rural and urban communities thrive.

Aside from his likability, I respect Keith greatly for how professionally he conducts himself at Parliament - both inside and outside the chamber - and I know I am far from the only one who believes this is important.

Importantly, Keith also has very positive proposals for engaging and reaching out to our 80,000 plus members and recognises the business model has to change. I know too that Keith Brown is a real grafter both for the party and as a minister. His ideas for strengthening research and policy support to council groups are also very important for the future development of council administrations at a local level, given the importance of good local services for the people of Scotland.

It is not unimportant that Keith can also reach out to segments of society - such as veterans, who I know from speaking with stakeholders in my own stint on the Cross Party Group for Armed Forces Veterans greatly respect him - and this will be important in converting many of the '55' to joining those of us in the '45' if we are to build a majority to initially push for maximum devolution and, I hope, ultimately win the argument for full Independence when the next opportunity presents itself.

So while I am absolutely confident that any of the three candidates would do a grand job, I believe the particular attributes Keith possesses and demonstrates daily are what make him the best candidate for Depute Leader and Deputy First Minister and why I myself will be voting for Keith Brown and urge my fellow party members to do so too.