SCOTLAND's constitutional affairs secretary Michael Russell is to stand down ahead of next year's election.

He is the first Scottish Government minister to announce he will not be making a bid to re-enter the Scottish Parliament in 2021 and is the fifth SNP MSP to do so.

The 66-year-old, who represents Argyll and Bute, previously held posts in Alex Salmond's government as education secretary and as culture minister, before joining Nicola Sturgeon's administration as Brexit minister in 2016 in the wake of the EU referendum. He was promoted to the Scottish Cabinet two years later.

Russell told his constituency association of his decision not to stand in 2021 when he met members earlier today in Tarbert citing his age as among the reasons for his decision not to fight the coming election.

The National:

"I will be 67 this summer and 72 at the end of the next Parliament. Argyll and Bute is a massive area to cover – with 23 inhabited islands and a large swathe of the mainland – and I am getting to the stage of thinking that someone younger would be better able to fulfil all the demands of the constituency. It is, I think, much better I say that now than wait for someone else to do so!" he said.

"I am proud of the work the SNP in Government has done in Argyll & Bute, securing much new investment, supporting individuals and communities. I am also proud of the work that we as a party have done in Government, including the tasks that I have undertaken in my ministerial roles in education, culture, the environment and in improving electoral law."

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He added: "Of course, my biggest challenges have been those I have faced since August 2016 when I was tasked by the First Minster with attempting to secure Scotland’s place in Europe and to make Scotland’s voice heard in Whitehall.

"There is no doubt that we are now faced with the most hostile, arrogant, heedless and thoughtless UK Government in many generations, which is determined to have its own way no matter what the people of Scotland want or vote for. It has been particularly distressing to have to see Scotland dragged out of Europe against our will by them – though that is something I am sure we can reverse before too long.

"Over the next year I will continue to work on that aim, to develop a greater domestic and international understanding of the case for independence."

He went on: "After next May I still intend to be active in the political sphere. I think of my decision as stepping back from some current roles, not stepping away from my commitment to our country and the better future it can have and should choose. Independence is so much closer than it was when I first voted for the SNP 46 years ago. I hope I have contributed something to that success and I still hope to contribute more but in a different way and role."

Naming Russell as her Brexit minister on in August 2016, Sturgeon said: “In the period ahead of article 50 being triggered, influencing the UK position will be crucial to our efforts to protect Scotland’s interests and our relationship with Europe, especially the single market.”

The National: Nicola Sturgeon and her Brexit minister Michael Russell leave 10 Downing Street after a Joint Ministerial Council meeting. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

A pragmatist on the centre-right of the Scottish National party, Russell is seen as one of the most experienced figures at Holyrood and in the SNP. He served as party chief executive under Salmond before devolution.

During his role as minister for UK negotiations on Scotland’s place in Europe, he reported directly to the First Minister, and focused on building political alliances in Scotland to strengthen his hand in any policy conflicts with the UK government in London.

Russell joins MSP colleagues Bruce Crawford, James Dornan, Richard Lyle and Gail Ross in announcing they will not be standing next year.

Party bosses wrote to all SNP MSPs last month telling them to inform headquarters by 6 March if they were not standing.

It is understood the move is part of an internal party process to identify which constituencies will have an all female shortlist of candidates.