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Senior SNP figures Roseanna Cunningham and Alex Neil to stand down at Holyrood election

David Anderson/Holyrood

Senior SNP figures Roseanna Cunningham and Alex Neil to stand down at Holyrood election

Two more senior SNP politicians have announced plans to step down as MSPs at next year’s Holyrood election.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and former minister Alex Neil told constituents over the weekend that they do not plan to seek re-election. 

Both MSPs cited their age as a deciding factor in choosing not to stand for a further five-year term. 

Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, and MSP for South Perthshire and Kinross-shire, told her constituency association on Saturday that it had been “a massive honour” to represent her area for 25 years and that she had arrived at the decision after “some hard thinking”.

She said: “By the time of the next election I will be less than two months away from my 70th birthday and, further, by the end of that parliamentary term I would be nearly 75. 

“This year, of all years, has made age a rather more relevant factor than it may otherwise have been.”

Cunningham was first elected as an MP in a 1995 by-election for Perth and Kinross. She held the seat in the 1997 general election and went on to be elected an MSP in the first Scottish Parliamentary election.

She has held various government positions since 2009, including community safety minister and cabinet secretary for fair work, skills and training before taking up her current role. 

Cunningham was also deputy leader of the SNP between 2000 and 2004.

She described herself as “the longest-serving current Scottish parliamentarian”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was among the dozens of party figures who praised Cunningham for her role in government and in the Scottish independence movement. 

Sharing Cunningham’s announcement on Twitter, Sturgeon said: “A quarter of a century of brilliant public service. [She] will be missed in both the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government.

“I’m certain she’ll continue to make a significant contribution on Scotland’s journey to independence.”

Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop described Cunningham as “a shining star and ferocious force for Scotland and independence in intellect, passion, wisdom and commitment”.

Former presiding officer Tricia Marwick said: “From the girl in Australia who longed for home, to the SNP activist, MP, MSP and Cab Sec, she has given a lifetime commitment to the cause of independence. 

“Her legacy is immense. She is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand. Be worthy of her. All the best Roseanna.”

Former cabinet secretary Alex Neil also announced his intention to step down at the upcoming Scottish election. 

The MSP for Airdrie and Shotts has held various government roles since first being elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, including health secretary and social justice minister. 

He said on Sunday that he had been “tempted to stand again” but had decided “after much soul searching” that he could not commit to the possibility of another five-year term. 

He said he planned to spend more time with his wife and grandchildren, but added that he planned to work “full-time” for the remaining eight months of his term. 

Neil is often described as an outspoken and independent minded MSP, a trait famously expressed in his open vote to leave the European Union. 

Reacting to the announcement, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: "Very sorry to hear this news. Alex has been a valued friend and colleague for many years.

"His 'quiet' role in securing the passage of my first budget was invaluable and critical to our success in government. He achieved much as a minister and MSP."

Neil Gray, the MP for Airdrie and Shotts who has worked closely with Neil described him as a “friend and mentor”. 

He said: “There is no doubt that the people of Airdrie and Shotts and the Scottish Parliament will be losing one of the most talented politicians Scotland has ever produced.”

Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson also joined in praising Neil.

She said: “Ach. Alex will be a miss - he's done big jobs, has proper independence of mind and is an incorrigible gossip (in the best possible way). Holyrood will be a bit more vanilla for him going.”

Constitution Minister Michael Russell tweeted Neil saying: “You have put in a long shift - and your statement puts it well. There are things in life that politics makes you neglect and the chance to rectify that comes only once every five years. Enjoy them!!”

Cunningham and Neil are the latest senior SNP politician to announce their intentions to step down at the next election in May 2021. 

Stewart Stevenson, MSP for Banffshire and Buchan announced in March his intention not to seek re-election.

Russell also said he plans to stand down.

Responding to comments online about the number of senior SNP figures who had made such decisions, Russell said: “Most of us [are] beyond normal retirement age, doing demanding jobs and only able to step down at an election - so either 2021 or wait further five years.  

“All of us committed to continue the campaign for Indy by other means.”

Others include Linda Fabiani, Gil Paterson, Gail Ross, Bruce Crawford, Angus Macdonald, Aileen Campbell and Richard Lyle.

Read the most recent article written by Ailean Beaton - Nicola Sturgeon calls for stronger UK COVID-19 restrictions

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