John Swinney to stand down as Scotland's longest-serving deputy first minister when Nicola Sturgeon's successor is appointed

John Swinney has said he will stand down as Scotland's longest-serving deputy first minister after being in the post for nearly nine years.

His decision follows Nicola Sturgeon's shock announcement last month that she would be resigning as the SNP leader and Scottish first minister.

Mr Swinney described his almost 16 years in the cabinet - first under Alex Salmond then under Ms Sturgeon - as the "privilege of my life".

The 58-year-old was also finance secretary and education secretary during his time in government, and is currently the COVID recovery secretary.

Mr Swinney, who became deputy first minister in 2014, said he would step down once a new first minister is appointed later this month and he will return to the backbenches.

When Ms Sturgeon announced in February she was resigning, Mr Swinney said he would not run to be her successor, stating he wished to "create the space" for "fresh perspective" within the SNP.

In his letter to Ms Sturgeon on Thursday setting out his intentions, which he shared on Twitter, Mr Swinney said it was an "honour to serve Scotland".

He also said he "sought to transform the life chances of everyone" and made it clear he still backed Scottish independence.

He said: "These have been demanding commitments to fulfil over nearly 16 years and I have decided that, when the first minister is appointed later in March, I will stand down from government."

He added he would continue at Holyrood as the MSP for his constituency Perthshire North.

And he said he looked forward to serving with Ms Sturgeon on the backbenches "to continue our contribution to Scotland's cause".

In her reply, Ms Sturgeon thanked Mr Swinney for his unique "contribution to our nation" and said she understood his decision despite feeling "a real sense of sadness" when he told her.

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She said: "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."

She highlighted his budget policies as financial secretary and his later education reforms which included an "increase in teacher numbers" and university access to "record numbers of young people from the poorest backgrounds".

She also praised Mr Swinney's "deep care and attention to the wellbeing of our nation".

Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf are all in the running to be the next SNP leader and first minister.