Express Exclusive: The First Minister kept on most of Nicola Sturgeon’s special advisers when he took over but did pay out more than £200k to key names such as Liz Lloyd and Stuart Nicolson
By Lucy Ashton
The Scottish Government forked out more than £200,000 this year as part of “golden goodbyes” to departing special advisers, including Nicola Sturgeon’s “fixer.” The payments were made to eight senior spin doctors to SNP ministers once Humza Yousaf took over as First Minister.
When a new politician takes over at Bute House, it usually leads to a changing of the guard of both cabinet members and also those who are paid to advise them. When Mr Yousaf took over, he kept a large number of his predecessor’s team in their roles, only chopping and changing three key names.
Stuart Nicolson, a former Daily Mail reporter who joined the government in 2008, was the most high-profile departure as he was Sturgeon’s Head of Communications and a key point of contact with the media. He ruled over the weekly post-FMQs media briefing.
The former First Minister’s right-hand woman and “fixer” Liz Lloyd also exited government following a furore around her helping Mr Yousaf with his SNP leadership campaign. She had been Ms Sturgeon’s chief of staff since she replaced Alex Salmond, before stepping away in 2021 to a different role.
Net Zero adviser John McFarlane also exited government. Now, the Scottish Daily Express can reveal that in total eight special advisers (SpAds) had their contracts terminated following the start of Mr Yousaf’s reign.
These payments, known as “golden goodbyes” totalled £223,897, and relate to contractual severance pay entitlements for payment in lieu of notice (£204,055.62) and/or annual leave accrued but not taken (£19,841.76). These are automatically payable by the employer on termination.
They are also paid out because SpAds are often required to cease work with immediate effect and without a period of notice. This is unlike civil servants, who are unbiased workers, with SpAds relied upon to give out political advice.
These payments were only the second time in five years that special advisers have been axed and were paid off using public money. In 2021 following the Holyrood election where the SNP were forced to rely on the Scottish Greens to govern, 14 advisers were made redundant and handed a “golden goodbye.:
This cost the taxpayer a whopping £459,484.32 and relate to contractual severance pay entitlements for payment in lieu of notice (£355,164.43) and/or annual leave accrued but not taken (£104,319.89).
Mr Yousaf kept on a number of key Sturgeon advisers when he became First Minister, which only boosted critic’s claims that he was the continuity candidate. This includes keeping on her chief of staff Colin McAllister in the same role, while finding space for the likes of Jeanette Campbell, Ewan Crawford, Davie Hutchison, Ross Ingebrigtsen, Emily Mackintosh, and former MP Callum McCaig.
Harry Huyton and Gavin Corbett, the SpAds working alongside the Green ministers in the joint government, are also remaining in post. He also did hire a number of new staff, including bringing in Jack Middleton, the SNP staffer who took leave to help with his leadership campaign.
His most high-profile hire was bringing back Kevin Pringle, Alex Salmond’s former spin doctor and strategist, to fill the role of Head of Communications and Strategic Political Adviser.