Deputy First Minister John Swinney to step down
Deputy First Minister John Swinney is to quit the Scottish Government, it has been announced.
Swinney will not serve as second-in-command to any of the candidates currently standing to replace Nicola Sturgeon, who is preparing to exit her role as First Minister.
The veteran MSP - the longest-serving DFM ever - will instead move to the backbenches.
In a letter to Sturgeon, he said it has been "an honour to serve Scotland".
Swinney wrote: "I have decided that, when the First Minister is appointed later in March, I will stand down from government.
"When I joined the Scottish National Party at the age of 15 in 1979, our political prospects were poor and I could scarcely have imagined that over so many years I would have the opportunity to serve Scotland in government in the way I have.
"In all that I have undertaken in government, I have tried to listen carefully to different views and be open to the ideas and thoughts of people in Scotland. I have sought always to transform the life chances of everyone who lives here. I have acted to make Scotland a fairer, more prosperous and more confident country that I believe would be assured with independence."
In her reply, Sturgeon said Swinney has made a "unique" contribution to Scotland, adding: "Therefore, while I - perhaps more than most - completely understand your decision, I still felt a real sense of sadness when you told me of it."
Praising Swinney's record, she went on: "I could not have wished for a better partner in government than you, and there is no doubt that our Scottish Government would have achieved much less had you not been in it.
"Please accept my thanks for your support, wisdom and, above all, friendship as together with Ministers past and present, we sought to make Scotland a better place. As I said when I announced my own departure from office, serving as First Minister has been the privilege of my life - having done so with you by my side as Deputy First Minister has been an honour.
"As for the future, I know you will continue to serve Scotland well and that you will be, as you always have been, a source of good advice and wise counsel to our party, government and movement. I look forward to this new phase - for both of us - as we move to the backbenches and make way for the new generation who will now lead Scotland forward."
Swinney's decision comes as the SNP membership continues to consider who it will elect as the next party leader.
In the first hustings in Cumbernauld, contender Humza Yousaf called Swinney his "best friend" in politics.
Paying tribute to the DFM, Yousaf called him "a true giant of the SNP and the independence movement". He said: "John would be any First Minister's top pick to be in cabinet, but I
respect the reasons he has outlined for standing down from government once the First Minister demits office."