Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead has resigned from the Scottish Cabinet.
The Moray MSP quit his post as Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment as Nicola Sturgeon prepares to reshuffle her team.
After much thought in recent months, I have taken the decision that after nine incredible but hectic years as a cabinet secretary, the time has come to change the priorities in my life especially in light of recent family circumstances.Richard Lochhead
He told the First Minister he needed to “change the priorities” and wants to spend more time with his wife Fiona, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and his children.
A Cabinet member for nine years, Mr Lochhead has recently come under fire for his handling of the farm subsidy payments crisis, after Scottish farmers faced lengthy delays for the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies following problems with a £178 million IT system set up to administer them.
The matter was not mentioned in letters between the MSP and the First Minister.
In his letter, Mr Lochhead, 46, wrote: “After much thought in recent months, I have taken the decision that after nine incredible but hectic years as a cabinet secretary, the time has come to change the priorities in my life especially in light of recent family circumstances.
“I now wish to focus more on supporting Fiona and also my young sons, Angus and Fraser, who are growing up fast and whom I want to see more of in the next few years.”
He said serving in the Cabinet had been an “absolute privilege” and praised Ms Sturgeon’s “leadership and vision”.
He added: “I am very proud of the SNP Government’s record and what we have been able to achieve together in recent years including many achievements in my own portfolio.”
In her response, the First Minister thanked Mr Lochhead for his “very significant contribution”.
She wrote: “You have served under both Alex Salmond and myself with distinction and you leave a rich and enduring legacy of achievement in your policy portfolio.”
She praised his efforts to tackle climate change, his work on behalf of Scotland’s food and drink industry and moves to clean up the marine environment.
She added: “You have also always been a robust and articulate advocate and defender of our farmers and fishermen in Europe, despite the challenges posed by the fact that Scotland’s ministers are all too frequently locked out of key discussions.”
She will hold discussions with MSPs who will form the next Scottish cabinet, at her official residence after formally being sworn in as First Minister at the Court of Session.