Alex Neil, a former Justice Secretary under Alex Salmond, became the latest high-profile SNP MSP to announce he will not be seeking re-election in May. The 69-year-old who represents the Airdrie and Shotts constituency has been an MSP since Holyrood was established in 1999, serving first as a list MSP for the Central Scotland region, before winning his constituency seat in 2011.
He said: “After much soul searching, I have decided that to commit to another five years as an MSP would mean not having the time to pursue all the other things in life I want to do.”
He said it had been a “privilege and a pleasure” to have been an MSP for 21 years “especially since 2011 when I became the constituency MSP for Airdrie and Shotts”.
But in a stark warning to the SNP, he said: “To underline the strength and clarity of the mandate, the SNP should agree the wording of that commitment with the wider independence movement and in particular invite the Scottish Green Party to agree an identical wording for their manifesto promise of a referendum.
“That way the legitimacy of the pro-independence parties’ joint mandate cannot be challenged.”
Mr Neil added the case for independence “needs to be updated as the world has moved on since 2014.”
He stressed: “It is difficult to see how we can re-build the Scottish economy without the tools available to independent nations, including a currency and central bank.
“The SNP also has to revisit its policy for an independent Scotland to join the EU, which would lead to customs barriers between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK.
“It would make much more sense for an independent Scotland to join EFTA, which would secure access to European markets without the downsides of EU membership.”
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He also took a swipe at Boris Johnson stressing the Scottish Conservatives could be wiped out.
He added: “If the Scottish people elect a pro-independence majority to the Scottish Parliament with a clear democratic mandate to hold an independence referendum, Boris Johnson should not dare to stand in the way of Scottish democracy.”
Reflecting personally, Mr Neil said he owed it to his wife and family to spend more time with them.
He added: “I have another eight months to serve out my term. My priorities during that time will be to help 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.
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“More generally, I will continue to work full-time for my constituents up until I cease being their MSP at the end of March 2021.”
Mr Neil succeeded current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as health secretary, holding the post for two years between 2012 and 2014. He was also in the Scottish Cabinet as communities secretary until 2016.
His announcement comes the day after Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced she would not be seeking re-election in May.
Meanwhile, other SNP MSPs, including Constitution Secretary Mike Russell, Gail Ross and Bruce Crawford, have all confirmed they will be stepping down.