A senior Labour MSP has sensationally quit Holyrood just weeks before it disbands for an election.
North East Scotland representative Richard Baker was not standing to return to the Scottish Parliament in May’s vote but his decision to step down early has stunned politicians across all parties.
Mr Baker is leaving to take up a policy role with Age Scotland, having previously worked with Help the Aged before entering Holyrood.
Scottish Labour says it will nominate Dundee councillor Lesley Brennan the next person on the North East list to replace him.
Mr Baker said: “Having worked for Help the Aged before I was elected, I am particularly delighted to start a new challenge with a charity which does so much for older people in Scotland.
“I want to thank members again for their support over the years and my colleagues in parliament. I am delighted the final leader I have served under is one of our own from the North East.
“I was pleased to support Kez (Kezia Dugdale) not only as a friend but for the great ability she brings to her role and know you will support her and the rest of the team in the months ahead.”
Scottish Labour leader Ms Dugdale said: “Richard Baker is a good friend and we will be sad to see him leave Holyrood. Parliament’s loss is Age Scotland’s gain. He has been a strong advocate for the North East and a source of great support for me personally throughout the years.
“I wish Richard all the best in his new role, and know that he will be a major asset to the vital campaign work of ensuring older people get the best from our government.”
Ms Brennan is the next in line on the regional list rankings from the 2011 election and under Holyrood convention should now step up to become an MSP andreplace the man who Alex Rowley defeated in the contest to be Scottish Labour’s deputy leader last summer.
That was the process which led to Fife-based Jayne Baxter gaining a seat when John Park stood down in 2012 to take up a senior post with the trade union Community.
Ms Brennan – who has criticised Ms Dugdale in the past – said: “I want to pay tribute to the work of Richard Baker throughout the years. He has been a tireless champion for social justice throughout his career, and I wish him well with Age Scotland.
“These are challenging times for Scottish Labour, but in Kez Dugdale we have a new leader who is best placed to regain the trust of the people of Scotland.
“We will go into this election with a very positive message – that using the new powers heading to Holyrood we can transform the lives of families in Scotland.
“I look forward to playing my part in the campaign and standing up for the people of the North East in the Scottish Parliament.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Richard Baker is somebody who has given a great deal of commitment and effort to his role as an MSP.
“We are in different parties and on different sides of the political divide but I think he has been somebody who has conducted himself well as an MSP and I wish him every success in the future.”