SPECULATION is rife among senior SNP figures about whether the First Minister will reshuffle her Cabinet after four of her top team have announced they will be standing down ahead of the May election.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman became the latest member of the Government to reveal that she will not be fighting to regain her seat in the Scottish Parliament next spring.

She joined three Cabinet Secretaries – Constitutional Secretary Michael Russell, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell – as members of the Government who said they would be leaving Holyrood next year.

The development has provoked intense discussion among elected politicians and hopeful SNP MSPs about how Nicola Sturgeon will respond.

There is also discussion about whether Deputy First Minister John Swinney will remain over the longer term as Education Secretary. Swinney survived a rare no-confidence vote in Parliament earlier this month.

“I’d have thought a reshuffle is likely,” said one SNP source.

READ MORE: Jeane Freeman to stand down at 2021 Holyrood election

“As ever, new blood needs time to come through and some old guard need removed from the firing line.”

The source added: “I’d have thought some like John [Swinney] and Jeane [Freeman] need a change of portfolio.”

A second insider said: “I think it would be wise to have a reshuffle before the election. It would allow her to go into the election with a refreshed team.

“It’s one of the advantages of incumbency. You can choose a team which hopefully the electorate like and they will reward you accordingly. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one. Things aren’t going well in education, are they?”

However, with opinion polls suggesting the SNP are on course for a record fourth term in government next May, some figures in the party took the view that it would make more sense for the First Minister to wait until after the election before carrying out a reshuffle.

Others pointed out that with focus on the pandemic Cabinet changes made little sense.

“Personally I think the First Minister will wait until after the election as then she will know who she has in Holyrood and what suitable positions would be available,” said another observer.

“If she had a reshuffle now she may end up having to do another one after May. It would mean new ministers wouldn’t have a decent length of the to be involved in their brief.

“If she was to promote someone now, she might end up having to put them back on the backbenchers next June.”

There are currently a number of experienced politicians who could be among the SNP’s Holyrood intake in 2021 and who the First Minister may want in her government team.

They include former party depute leader Angus Robertson, former minister Marco Biagi (who are both standing to win the party’s nomination for Edinburgh Central) as well as Glasgow councillor Rhiannon Spear.

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However, there are several MPs including Philippa Whitford, a breast surgeon, and Joanna Cherry, who many in the party believe would be valuable Cabinet members. However new party rules require MPs to stand down if selected to fight a Holyrood seat. Cherry last month dropped out of the selection contest after a rule change was announced.

Last week 13 SNP MPs wrote to the SNP’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee, to urge them to reverse the change.

They included Douglas Chapman, who on Tuesday tweeted his support for Whitford to succeed Freeman. “Best wishes to @JeaneF1MSP – a class act and another experienced Cabinet Secretary who will be missed. @Dr_PhilippaW – hope you are warming up your stethoscope for @ScotPar gig.”

Former presiding officer Tricia Marwick pointed out many of the MSPs who were standing down were doing so as they are above or approaching the usual retirement age.