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Profiling Sturgeon’s large Praetorian Guard of Special Advisers – Stewart Maxwell

17 Jan 2017: Sturgeons recruits Ex MSP Stewart Maxwell to her “Special Adviser” team

There is the belated announcement of the appointment of yet another new Special Adviser. Stewart Maxwell, formerly Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee, lost his seat in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. But on 13 January 2017 he announced on Twitter that he had just completed his first week as a “Special Adviser”. It appears Maxwell is now responsible for “Business, the Economy, Skills & Fair Work”, duties formerly the responsibility of Jeanette Campbell, who retains “Communities, Social Security, and Equalities”.

7 Aug 2020: Maxwell off to CalMac Ferries

Sturgeon’s former “Special Adviser” Stewart Maxwell left the Scottish Government to become the Policy and Public Affairs Manager at CalMac Ferries – which is also owned by the Scottish Government through a labyrinth of holding companies. Why take a demotion from government to do PR for a ferry operator?

CalMac is at the centre of a row with Clyde-based shipbuilder Ferguson Marine over the latter’s contract to supply the ferry company with two new hi-tech vessels powered by liquid gas. Ferguson won the £97m contract back in 2015. Unfortunately, construction fell behind schedule while the final bill for the ferries rocketed to an absurd £200m. As a result, Ferguson collapsed last year, with debts of £49m to the Scottish Government, and was taken into public ownership itself. What went wrong?

It soon emerged that CalMac, the publicly owned ferry operator, had had very little to do with the contract, which had been placed by CMAL, another of the chain of front companies that leads to the Scottish Government. CMAL is the actual legal owner of the vessels that CalMac Ferries operates. It seems that the boys at CMAL didn’t talk to the guys at CalMac and that CalMac did not even want the complicated new boats that Ferguson were building. Meantime, CMAL kept changing the specs for the new ships, driving the Ferguson engineers bonkers, and driving up the price. The inference in all this being that somebody inside the Scottish Government was pushing the agenda for a new gas-powered ship technology and was using CalMac as the guinea pig.

Which may explain the arrival of Stewart Maxwell. His updated Linkedin entry actually has him working for David MacBrayne Ltd which is the overall holding company for CMAL and CalMac Ferries. Which suggests he has been recruited to give the whole kit and caboodle a public relations makeover. I wish him luck. Stewart, of course, was a veteran SNP MSP from 2003 to 2016, when he lost his seat. At which point – in the revolving door between public office, special advisors and external PR work – he was rescued to become a paid “Special Adviser”.

The interesting thing about Stewart Maxwell’s career is that it exemplifies the “influence” conveyor belt between the SNP leadership and the business community via a legion of former party special advisors, elected members and staffers who have gone on to work in the public relations business. Of course, working for private PR and “communications” agencies is an interchangeable career move for the modern political class everywhere. However, for a tiny political party which does not even command office in a nation state, the SNP has been able to create organic links to the UK and global PR industry of an extraordinary nature.

Party insiders have always defended this development as being useful in offsetting media attacks through insider activity with the business community. It is noteworthy that the former SNP cadre who go into public relations and communications still retain their support for the SNP and maintain close links with the party. Also, many switch back and forth between the SNP and private work. Probably no other UK party apart from the Tories maintains such close links with the PR industry as the SNP. It is the party’s secret weapon. (https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2020/08/07/the-snp-and-the-lobbying-business