Devolutionary politics has thrown up a fresh generation of politicians in Scotland and Wales. Patrick Butler introduces the newcomers

'Government by the unknown,' ruminated one seasoned observer when asked about newly appointed Scottish health ministers.

It may not stay that way once the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly start work, but one of the realities of devolved power is that a new cadre of politicians has emerged that is in many cases virtually unheard of outside local party politics.

So who are the key players in health policy?


Susan Deacon, minister for health and community care

The words 'meteoric' and 'rise' have been attached to Ms Deacon since her appointment to first minister Donald Dewar's cabinet.

The 34-year old business consultant was initially rejected from the approved list of Labour candidates. She appealed, won, and took Edinburgh East and Musselburgh. There is speculation that her exclusion was due to a past as a leading light in the left-wing Scottish Labour Action. One Scottish NHS manager told HSJ: 'She is known to have crossed swords with the party in the past, and acquired the nickname Deacon Red' (after the rock band Deacon Blue).

Others believe she is a born-again New Labourite who shows a fondness for such New Labour concepts as 'partnership', and 'the new politics'.

An Edinburgh University graduate, she has worked in local government and higher education. She has also worked with Margaret Ford, chair of Lothian health board, at a business consultancy of which Ms Ford is managing director.

Iain Gray, deputy minister for community care

Mr Gray had the kudos of defeating the leader of the Scottish Conservatives for the Edinburgh Pentlands seat. With no direct health experience, he is an Edinburgh University graduate who trained as a physics teacher, and has worked as a campaigns manager for Oxfam.

Mary Scanlon, Scottish Conservative health and social work spokeswoman

Ms Scanlon twice failed to be elected to the House of Commons, in 1992 and 1997. A former lecturer in economics and management at Inverness College, she inherits the health portfolio after eight months as the Conservatives' Highlands and Islands spokeswoman.

Kay Ullrich, Scottish National Party health and social policy spokeswoman

The veteran SNP activist, currently its national vice-president, has stood unsuccessfully for Westminster three times. She has written policy papers on disabled rights, community care and health. A founder member of SNP CND, she is a former social worker and Butlin's redcoat.


Jane Hutt, health and social services minister

Ms Hutt got off to a flying start with a high-profile pledge to reduce junior doctors' hours, a couple of hospital visits and health conference appearances.

A former non-executive director of Cardiff Community Healthcare trust - where she was involved in complaints handling - and once a member of Cardiff community health council, she is well-known in south Wales local government and Labour Party circles.

'She's got experience of local health issues and she is patient-oriented. She's extremely able and eminently sensible, cool and caring,' says Martyn Jenkins, chief officer of Cardiff CHC.

Before being elected as Assembly member for the Vale of Glamorgan, Ms Hutt was director of the Chwarae Teg ('Fair Play') initiative supporting women in the workforce and was vice-chair of the Wales Council for Voluntary Action.

Kirsty Williams, Welsh Assembly health and social services committee chair

The youthful (28) and inexperienced Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman enlisted the support of the party's Westminster health team to help guide her through the assembly elections, although party managers say she 'learned the brief well and didn't put a foot wrong'. Critics speculate about her 'political naivety' and wonder whether, as its sole Liberal Democrat, she may find chairing the health committee 'heavy going'.

The former marketing executive is an ex-girlfriend of Evan Harris MP, now Lib Dem health spokesperson in the House of Commons.

Dai Lloyd, Plaid Cymru health spokesman

The architect of Plaid's health policy, Dr Lloyd was a Swansea fundholding GP before entering the assembly on the list system. He is a lay preacher, and star of his own weekly live TV medical chat show on Channel Four Wales. He will bring an 'old socialism' perspective to the Assembly's health committee.

David Melding, Welsh Conservative health spokesman

Educated at a comprehensive school in Neath and a former Welsh Conservative Party researcher, he unsuccessfully fought Blaenau Gwent and Cardiff Central in the 1992 and 1997 general elections.See Webwatch, pages 16-17.