THE SNP’s longest serving politician has said “he is not Don Corleone” as he revealed he will step down ahead of the Holyrood election next year.

Richard Lyle, the MSP for Uddingston and Belshill, made the reference to the fictional mafia boss as he described the highs and lows of his career in an exclusive interview with The National as he reflected on his 45 years in frontline politics.

“The 2014 referendum was amazing and seeing the huge change in the number of people supporting independence and I will continue to fly the flag for independence,” he said.

“But the saddest day of my life though was when untruths about my branch, about myself and about the people I know. Being called Don Corelone hurt me and hurt my wife. I am not Don Corelone.”

Don Corleone was portrayed by Marlon Brando in the legendary movie The Godfather directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

The National: Don Corleone from "The Godfather" (1972)Don Corleone from "The Godfather" (1972)

Lyle’s remark was an allusion to the depiction of him by party rivals who believed he exerted too much influence. His critics also described his base in Lanarkshire as the “McMafia”.

The feuding became so difficult that in February 2017 the SNP’s national secretary suspended the Lyle’s neighbouring SNP Coatbridge branch in a bid to resolve the situation.

But speaking about the tensions for the first time publicly Lyle said: “The “McMafia [label] came from people who didn’t like the fact we were getting on with work. They were people who wanted to create bother.” He added: “I am a team player and always have been a team player.”

Reflecting on his career, he continued: “I was honest, I built my reputation on working for the people. I insisted on people never calling me Mr Lyle, but Richard.

“My last count and I’m still doing it is that I’ve got 5,034 people a house.”

And comparing the change in his party’s election fortunes, he added: “When I started out as a SNP activist people would say ‘what are you doing here son?’

“You could weigh the Labour vote. What has changed is that people like me have come into the party. I went into the council, then we had three councillors, then seven, then 13, then 20 odd.” Lyle, whose parents were Labour voters, joined the SNP in 1966 at the age of 16 after watching a party political broadcast on television and being struck by the appeal of the party logo.

The following year was an exciting one for the party with Winnie Ewing elected to Westminster in the Hamilton by-election. The teenage Lyle got involved in the campaign which was his first taste of grassroots politics. Nine years later in 1976 he was elected to Motherwell District and North Lanarkshire Council and became the SNP’s group leader in 1977.

He carried on in the role in North Lanarkshire Council until 2011 when he became a list MSP. Five years later he took the constituency seat of Uddingston and Belshill from Labour’s Michael McMahon.

Lyle said: “Next year I will be 71 years of age and will have completed 45 years in political life so I will be standing down before the next Scottish Parliament election.”

READ MORE: Why this SNP stalwart was the lynchpin of the party’s success

He thanked his agent of 23 years Edward Corson and said he looked forward to spending more time with his wife, children and grandchildren.

Under the SNP’s drive for greater equality at Holyrood there is a strong chance’s Lyle’s successor will be selected from an all-female shortlist – a move he supports. He said: “I support the party’s stance. We need to encourage more women to stand.”

Lyle’s announcement comes a day after fellow MSP Bruce Crawford said he would not be fighting the next Holyrood election.

Meanwhile, The National can also reveal MSP Gil Paterson, who represents the Clydebank and Milngavie constituency, is planning to stand for re-election. Paterson, 77, took the seat from Labour in May 2011 having previously been an MSP for the West of Scotland region since May 2007. A spokesman for the MSP told The National he has no plans to stand down for the next election.