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Galbraith hits the ground running

David Henderson and Neil Munro round-up a remarkable week

CIVIL servants who briefed Sam Galbraith, the surprise choice as Education Minister in the first Scottish executive, are familiar with the initiation. The former health minister and MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden is the fourth Scottish Office education minister in the past two years.

Mr Galbraith, 53, picks up considerable unfinished business, not least the challenge of how to mollify a disgruntled and suspicious teaching profession. But as an enthusiastic mountaineer he should be used to navigating unpromising territory.

The new minister will also have to be on his mettle to satisfy the statutory duty promised by Donald Dewar when he launched Labour's manifesto. "If the Education Minister doesn't make the grade, he or she won't be the Education Minister," the former Scottish Secretary declared.

Mr Galbraith has a remit for children from the cradle to the rave age at the end of secondary. In his immediate past life he was the minister for children, culture and sport and these briefs have been added to his new role.

Peter Peacock, former convener of Highland Council and a recent Labour convert, becomes his deputy on education and children, while Rhona Brankin, a former lecturer and past Labour Party chair in Scotland, takes over as number two on culture and sport.

The new team will have to hit the ground running as an "education for the nation" Bill is the first major item on the Scottish Parliament's agenda. Mr Galbraith's Westminster experience should help avoid opposition ambushes.

He is popular among colleagues for his sharp and sometimes brusque wit, honed by his Greenock upbringing rather than his Lancashire birth. He is unlikely to court popularity among teachers, however, having energetically taken on the doctors over winter beds and waiting lists.

Mr Galbraith is less impressive on a public platform. He is a laid-back performer, often departs from the text and is never afraid to confront questioners. Answering them is another matter.

Most of all the former neurosurgeon is prized personally for his medical opinions. Many a niggle or concern among political colleagues - and journalists - has been resolved by a quiet word with Dr Sam.

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