Alex Neil is latest SNP MSP to announce he's standing down

One of Holyrood’s longest serving MSPs, the SNP politician Alex Neil, has announced he will not stand at next year's Scottish Parliament elections.

Alex Neil MSP has announced he won't stand at next year's Holyrood elections.
Alex Neil MSP has announced he won't stand at next year's Holyrood elections.

The MSP for Airdrie and Shotts said he had been “tempted” to stand for election again, but “after much soul searching” had decided against committing another five years to frontline politics.

His announcement comes just days after Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, said she was not standing next year, adding to a growing list of SNP “big hitters” who are quitting Holyrood, including Constitution Secretary Michael Russell.

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Scotland's longest serving parliamentarian to step down from Holyrood

Mr Neil, who is regarded as one of the most independent of the SNP government’s backbenchers in Holyrood - and the only one to have publicly said he voted for Brexit - said that he “owed it to his wife and family to spend more time with them” and that his two granddaughters missed him when he was “away so often on parliamentary and constituency business.”

In a statement on Facebook he said his priorities during his remaining eight months as an MSP would be to “tackle the fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic in my constituency, and to ensure that the new Monklands Hospital will be located in one of the two shortlisted sites in Airdrie and not at Gartcosh.”

Leaving frontline politics brings will bring to an end a controversial political career for Mr Neil, which began when he first joined the Labour Party, before quitting – along with Jim Sillars and John Robertson – to form the Scottish Labour Party in 1976.

After the SLP collapsed after three years he fell out of active politics until he joined the SNP six years later. He became the party's publicity director before being put in charge of party policy, as well as unsuccessfully standing as a candidate in a variety of general elections from 1989 to 1997. However in 1999 he was elected on Holyrood's regional list for Central Scotland, and the following year was defeated by John Swinney in a battle to become SNP leader.

His Holyrood career has seen him chair many vital committees, and after the SNP became a minority government he became minister for housing and communities in 2009. Two years later he became a constituency MSP in the SNP landslide and was appointed as Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure by Alex Salmond, before moving to become Health Secretary.

After surviving a vote on no confidence in 2014, after it was alleged he had acted improperly by cancelling changes to mental health provision, he was moved by Nicola Sturgeon to become Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners' Rights. However he resigned from the government in 2016 ahead of a government reshuffle.

His fellow MSP and depute leader of the SNP, Keith Brown, said his decision to go meant a “huge amount of experience" would be lost to Holyrood, and that Mr Neil had a “proud legacy" as a government minister.

Scottish Conservative MSP, Murdo Fraser, said Mr Neil would be missed as a "rare voice of independent thinking on the SNP back benches.”

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