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Scottish Parliament election: The MSPs saying goodbye to Holyrood in 2021

shared prosperity fund
The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

A changing of the guard is imminent at Holyrood with a total of 26 MSPs – about a fifth of the parliament – confirming they will not be seeking re-election next year.

The SNP will say goodbye to 14 of its 61 MSPs, with exactly half having entered the Scottish Parliament at its inception in 1999.

Three of the four cabinet secretaries confirmed as standing down have cited their age as a factor, since they would have been in their 70s within the lifetime of the next parliament, with fresh blood expected to come through in the next election.

With all-women shortlists introduced in seats where the incumbent SNP MSP is standing down, more female faces should be expected too.

Most notable among the departures from the Scottish Conservatives is former party leader Ruth Davidson, whose leadership brought the party to its position as the second largest at Holyrood.

Scottish Labour also loses a former leader and education spokesman in Iain Gray, at a time when the party faces growing discontent.

We take a look at the MSPs leaving the Scottish Parliament next year for pastures new.


Some 14 of 61 SNP MSPs currently serving in the Scottish Parliament have announced they intend to step down at the next election. Of those who have announced their imminent departure, seven joined in 1999 when the new parliament opened.

Jeane Freeman

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jeane Freeman.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman is one of the most high-profile MSPs to announce she will not stand in next year’s Holyrood election.

The 67-year-old, who was first elected to represent Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley in 2016, said she would be in her 70s by the end of the next term and had “more she wanted to do”.

She has held two ministerial positions in this time, including her current role as cabinet secretary for health, which has seen her oversee the Scottish Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and prior to this she served as social security minister.


Aileen Campbell

Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell.

Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell has said she is stepping down so she can spend more time with her family.

The 40-year-old, who has two young sons and was the first Scottish minister to take maternity leave in 2014, hopes to achieve a “better work-life balance”.

Ms Campbell was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2007, serving as local government and planning minister and then minister for children and young people.

She became minister for public health and sport in 2016 and then moved into her current role of communities and local government secretary in 2018.


Roseanna Cunningham

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham is another member of Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet who has made the decision to quit Holyrood, citing her age as the main factor.

The 69-year-old, who is Scotland’s longest-serving elected parliamentarian, said by the time of the next election she will be less than two months away from her 70th birthday and by the end of the parliamentary term would be nearly 75.

Prior to becoming an MSP, she was elected as MP for Perth and Kinross in 1995, before being elected to the Scottish Parliament in the ‘class of 1999’.

Ms Cunningham was SNP depute leader between 2000 and 2004 and ran against former First Minister Alex Salmond when he was elected party leader that year.

Before her appointment as environment secretary, the former solicitor also served as community safety minister and the fair work, skills and training secretary.


Michael Russell

Constitution, Europe and External Affairs Secretary Michael Russell.

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell is another high-profile SNP politician to say he is quitting the Scottish Parliament, stating that at 67 “someone younger” would be better placed to represent his sprawling constituency, which includes 23 inhabited islands and the mainland.

The SNP veteran, who entered the Scottish Parliament in 1999, is a former chief executive of the party and contested the party leadership in 2004, prompted by John Swinney’s resignation, but finished third behind Alex Salmond and Roseanna Cunningham.

As Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, he has taken on the task of representing the SNP administration in Brexit talks.


Alex Neil

Alex Neil.

Former health secretary Alex Neil has chosen to leave parliament next year after serving 21 years as an MSP, saying he owes it to his wife and family to spend more time with them.

The Airdrie and Shotts MSP said his decision was reached after “much soul searching” but he wanted to have time to “pursue all the other things in life I want to do”.

Stewart Stevenson

Stewart Stevenson.

MSP Stewart Stevenson will retire ahead of the 2021 election, after 20 years representing Banffshire and Buchan Coast.

First elected in 2001, he has previously held the Scottish Government positions of Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change and Minister for Environment and Climate Change.


Maureen Watt

Maureen Watt.

Aberdeen South and North Kincardine MSP Maureen Watt said as she will be nearly 75 by the end of the next term, the “time is right for another woman” to take on the role next year.

The SNP politician, who was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2006, was appointed as the country’s first Mental Health Minister, a role in which she served for two years.


Gail Ross

Gail Ross.

Gail Ross, who represents the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross constituency, decided to step down at the next election due to the “demands” of travelling to Edinburgh from her home in Wick for “sometimes five days a week, every week”.

The SNP politician said she wanted to be able to spend more time with her family and to watch her son grow up.

She argued members should be able to video in to meetings and remote vote to encourage into politics more young people with families who live far away from Edinburgh.


Linda Fabiani

Linda Fabiani.

Scottish Parliament deputy presiding officer Linda Fabiani, who was first elected in 1999, said she will be 65 by next year’s election and does not feel she can make “another five-year commitment”.

The former minister first represented Central Scotland but has served as MSP for East Kilbride since 2011.

Ms Fabiani was chosen to chair the Holyrood committee inquiry into the government’s handling of complaints against Alex Salmond.


Bruce Crawford

Bruce Crawford.

Bruce Crawford has served as an MSP since 1999, representing the Mid-Scotland and Fife region until 2007, and later representing Stirling as a constituency MSP since then.

The 65-year-old has said he wants to spend more time with his three young grandchildren.


Sandra White

Sandra White.

Sandra White has joined several of her colleagues elected to the parliament in 1999 in choosing to stand down ahead of next year’s election.

First elected as an MSP for the Glasgow region, she won her current seat of Glasgow Kelvin in 2011.

Ms White said she had “no doubt that we will see independence for Scotland in my lifetime”.


Angus MacDonald

Angus MacDonald.

Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald will have served 10 years at Holyrood by the time he steps down in May 2021.

Born in Stornoway, the MSP said it was time to “return to his roots in the Western Isles to explore other opportunities”.


Richard Lyle

Richard Lyle.

The Uddingston and Bellshill MSP was first elected to Holyrood in 2011 to represent Central Scotland and won his current seat in 2016.

He announced in February he would not stand for election next year.


Gil Paterson

Gil Paterson.

Long-serving MSP Gil Paterson, who entered the Scottish Parliament in 1999, has chosen to step down after working for more than 20 years.

The 77-year-old was first elected as an MSP for Central Scotland, before becoming a West of Scotland MSP in 2007 and, later, the MSP for Clydebank and Milngavie in 2011.

Scottish Conservatives 

Four Scottish Conservative MSPs have so far signalled their intention to leave the Scottish Parliament ahead of next year’s election, including former party leader Ruth Davidson.

They currently have 31 members, making them the largest opposition party at Holyrood.

Ruth Davidson

Ruth Davidson.

Former party leader Ruth Davidson is the most high-profile MSP to announce a Holyrood departure next year.

She chose to stand down from heading up the Tories last August, saying the thought of leaving her family to fight another election filled her with “dread”.

Jackson Carlaw took over the reins from Ms Davidson until quitting the role in late July, just six months after taking on the post.

Ms Davidson has found herself back in the spotlight in recent weeks, after agreeing to step in temporarily to lead the party at First Minister’s Questions, after Moray MP Douglas Ross was elected the new leader.


Peter Chapman

Peter Chapman.

North-east MSP Peter Chapman will not seek re-election for the region next year.

The 70-year-old, who was first elected in 2016, was Conservative spokesman for rural economy and connectivity, until he resigned over a lobbying row in May 2018.

He previously served as an Aberdeenshire councillor from 2007 until 2012 and also worked at the National Farmers Union.


Margaret Mitchell

Margaret Mitchell.

Margaret Mitchell has represented Central Scotland for the last 17 years, entering the Scottish Parliament in 2003.

The 67-year-old, made the “huge decision” to not seek re-election next year after realising she had “achieved most of the things I set out to do”.


Adam Tomkins

Adam Tomkins.

Adam Tomkins, who was elected in 2016, plans to return full-time to his role as the John Millar Professor of Public Law at Glasgow University.

The Glasgow list MSP said his decision was not political and was instead for personal reasons, claiming it was down to the “work I want to pursue in the coming years and to do with the kind of father I aspire to be to my four children”.

Scottish Labour 

A total of five MSPs in Scottish Labour will be leaving before the 2021 election, including former party leader Iain Gray.

The party is the third-largest party in the parliament with 23 seats at Holyrood.

Iain Gray

Iain Gray.

Former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray was among the first intake of MSPs when the Scottish Parliament opened in 1999.

The 63-year-old, who led the party at Holyrood from 2008 to 2011, said that after more than 20 years at the front line of Scottish politics, next year was the “right time” to step aside.

After being defeated by Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie at the 2003 Scottish Parliament election, he left Holyrood to work as a special adviser to Alistair Darling, who was under-secretary of state at the Scotland Office.

He was later elected in 2007 to serve as MSP for East Lothian, a seat he has retained since then.

He was briefly acting party leader after Jim Murphy’s resignation in 2015, and is currently the party’s education spokesman at Holyrood.

David Stewart

David Stewart.

Veteran Highland MSP David Stewart will not stand at next year’s election, after more than 20 years in politics.

The politician, who will be 65 the day before polling day, said he wants to allow younger talent to come forward.

The former Inverness councillor became the first Labour MP to represent the then-constituency of Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber in 1997.

He doubled his majority in 2001, before losing the seat to Lib Dem Danny Alexander in 2005.

Elected to Holyrood two years later, he would serve a further two terms.


Neil Findlay

Neil Findlay.

In May last year, Lothian MSP Neil Findlay announced his intention to leave Holyrood before the next election.

He made the announcement at the same time as quitting as Scottish Labour’s Brexit spokesman but insisted at the time he was not quitting because of the European election.

The MSP has served the Lothian region since 2011, but prior to this served as a councillor in West Lothian from 2003.


Elaine Smith

Elaine Smith.

Central Scotland MSP Elaine Smith – who has served in the Scottish Parliament since it was established in 1999 – will not be standing again due to chronic health conditions.

Elected in 1999, she first served as the MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston, before representing the Central Scotland region from 2016.


Mary Fee

Mary Fee.

West Scotland MSP Mary Fee was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2011.

The 65-year-old, who announced her intentions last year, said it was “time for a new generation of Labour MSPs, with real life and work experience”.


Scottish Greens 

Only Highlands and Islands regional list MSP John Finnie has announced he will stand down at the next election. The party currently has six members in the Scottish Parliament.


John Finnie

John Finnie.

John Finnie began his parliamentary career in 2011 in the SNP, elected to represent the Highlands and Islands region.

The former police officer later resigned from the party in 2012 over the party’s decision to support Nato membership in an independent Scotland.

He sat as an independent for the rest of the term before being re-elected as a Green in 2016.

Mr Finnie, who has been involved in representative politics since being elected a Highland councillor in 2007, said the “time is right to step aside”.

Scottish Liberal Democrats 

The party currently has five MSPs at Holyrood, with only North-east MSP Mike Rumbles confirming he will not be seeking re-election.

Mike Rumbles

Mike Rumbles.

North-east MSP Mike Rumbles was first elected to represent West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine at the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

He held the the seat in both the 2003 and 2007 elections but was defeated by the SNP in 2011.

The 64-year-old was re-elected to represent the North-east region in 2016.


Independent MSP Mark McDonald has announced he will step down before the 2021 election.

Disgraced former SNP minister Derek Mackay was suspended by the party in February after it was revealed he sent 270 messages to a 16-year-old boy.

The 43-year-old has continued to hold his Renfrewshire North and West seat as an independent, pending an investigation into his conduct.

However, the SNP has said it will ask local party members to choose from an all-female list of potential candidates for the 2021 contest.


Mark McDonald

Mark McDonald MSP.

Mark McDonald was first elected to Holyrood in 2011 to represent the North-east region for the SNP.

Following a by-election in 2013, he was elected to serve as Aberdeen Donside MSP for the party, and held the seat in 2016.

He was appointed to serve as minister for childcare and early years in May 2016 but would later resign from the government, after sending a woman an inappropriate text message that referenced a sex act.

The 40-year-old, who started his career in politics as an Aberdeen councillor, quit the SNP in 2018 but chose to stay on as an independent.

In March he announced he would quit Holyrood ahead of the next election, saying he would “live forever” with the upset caused by his inappropriate behaviour to women.