IT’S so wonderful to get away from it all at a time like this. To escape to the countryside, fill one’s lungs with fresh air and take time out to focus on what really matters: quality time with friends and family, tuning into the rhythms of the natural world …. wait, what’s that? Jeane Freeman to stand down at next year’s Holyrood election? Dammit! I knew I should have put my phone on airplane mode.

Ah well, it’s too late now. Try as I might to focus on trees, birds and squirrels, some big questions wrestle their way to the front of my mind – will Nicola Sturgeon reshuffle her Cabinet soon, and if so, who will be in line for the top jobs?

The First Minister may have earned huge praise at home and abroad for her careful handling of the pandemic and punishing schedule of daily briefings, but one woman does not a government make. There may be a “me” in government, but it also contains, um, “teem”, and a strong line-up of ministers will need to be in place by next spring if voters are to be convinced that the SNP are firmly focused on both the day job and the long game.

With so many household names stepping down from key roles, there will be big shoes to fill and a real opportunity for rising stars to make their mark.

It is of course unlikely that Freeman will be going anywhere soon – replacing the Health Secretary at this critical time just wouldn’t make sense. But the succession planning must begin, as Covid-19 is no respecter of government ministers’ retirement plans. So how about moving Ash Denham (community safety) or Maree Todd (children and young people) to the role of minister for public health, sport and wellbeing, working alongside Jeane to ensure joined-up responses to the huge current challenge?

Similarly, Michael Russell needs to remain as Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs for the time being, until the Brexit process has been completed, but might SNP depute leader Keith Brown be positioned to take over the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs brief?

Kate Forbes has proven herself as Finance Secretary since rising to the challenge following the demise of Derek Mackay, but might it be an idea to shuffle John Swinney to the role of Economy and Fair Work Secretary?

It would surely make sense to detach culture from that portfolio, either bundling it together with rural economy and tourism or having one minister focus solely on helping the hard-hit cultural sector recover from the pandemic.

That does, of course, leave the vitally important role of Education Secretary up for grabs. Might Shirley-Anne Somerville, former minister for further and high education, be the perfect fit? She could be replaced as Secretary for Social Security and Older People by Shona Robison, the former health secretary who resigned during difficult personal circumstances in the summer of 2018 but is close to the First Minister and may be ready for a comeback.

It will be sad to see Aileen Campbell go, and her departure aged 40 to spend more time with her family highlights the difficulties of juggling parenthood (and motherhood in particular) with a political career.

However, Fiona Hyslop is well-placed to step into the hugely important role of Communities and Local Government Secretary at a time when central government decisions about lockdown rules in different parts of Scotland are changing week by week and not everyone in local government is happy about it.

Last on the list of retirees from top jobs (for now, at least) is Roseanna Cunningham, currently the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. Potential replacements for her include Paul Wheelhouse – currently minister for energy, connectivity and the islands – and Mairi Gougeon – currently Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment. Or might land reform be made into a distinct portfolio, as many believe it should be given its huge importance to Scotland’s future as a fair and sustainable independent nation?

That leaves Humza Yousaf in post as Justice Secretary to navigate challenges including additional powers for police to enforce lockdown rules and the controversy around the new Hate Crime Bill; Michael Matheson as Transport Secretary, who is having to get to grips with huge changes in the way we travel (and seek an alternative to the Rest and Be Thankful route after yet more chaos-causing landslips); and Fergus Ewing as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, who must try to strike a balance between supporting rural communities that are so dependent on the tourist trade and keeping those who live in them safe.

Of course, should Sturgeon announce a reshuffle the usual media suspects will do their best to characterise it negatively – especially in light of the feeding frenzy around John Swinney, who would have been damned if he had accepted all estimated grades for this year’s pupils just as he was damned when he didn’t. But it can hardly be called a night of the long knives given most of the departees have announced their intentions to quit in due course.

With a new Team Scotland behind her, the First Minister will be able to look to the future with renewed confidence. She might even manage to take a break from the podium.