JOHN Swinney is to stand down as a minister following the SNP's leadership election. 

In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon posted on Twitter, Swinney described serving in government since 2007 as "the privilege of my life". 

However, he added that when a new first minister is elected later this month he will step down as Deputy First Minister - a role he has held since 2014 - and serve as an MSP from the back benches. 

He wrote: "It has been the privilege of my life to serve in the Scottish Government since 2007 as a Cabinet Secretary with responsibility first for Finance and the Economy, then Education and Skills and finally Covid recovery.

"It has been an honour to serve Scotland as your Deputy First Minister since 2014. 

"When I joined the Scottish National Party at the age of 15 in 1979, our political prospects were poor and I could scarcely have imagined that over so many years I would have the opportunity to serve Scotland in government in the way I have.

"In all that I have undertaken in government, I have tried to listen carefully to different views and be open to the ideas and thoughts of people in Scotland. I have sought always to transform the life chances of everyone who lives here. I have acted to make Scotland a fairer, more prosperous and more confident country that I believe would be assured with Independence."

He added: "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.

"I will continue to faithfully represent my constituents in Perthshire North and look forward to sitting with you on the backbenches of the Scottish Parliament to continue our contribution to Scotland's cause." 

In her reply, Nicola Sturgeon said she "could not have wished for a better partner in government." 

She said: "Your contribution to our nation, almost 16 years in government is considerable, indeed unique. Therefore, while I - perhaps more than most - completely understand your decision, I still felt a real sense of sadness when you told me of it.

"Over almost 16 years in government, more than eight years as Deputy First Minister – indeed, the longest serving Deputy First Minister so far – you have made countless contributions to the good of our people and our country.

"In short, 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.

"Please accept my thanks for your support, wisdom and, above all, friendship as together with Ministers past and present, we sought to make Scotland a better place. As I said when I announced my own departure from office, serving as First Minister has been the privilege of my life - having done so with you by my side as Deputy First Minister has been an honour.

"As for the future, I know you will continue to serve Scotland well and that you will be, as you always have been, a source of good advice and wise counsel to our party, government and movement. I look forward to this new phase - for both of us - as we move to the backbenches and make way for the new generation who will now lead Scotland forward."

Leadership candidate Humza Yousaf, who at the SNP's first leadership hustings on Wednesday described Swinney as one of his best friends in politics, also paid tribute to Swinney's contributions in government. 

READ MORE: FMQs: Douglas Ross shouts 'f***'s sake' as proceedings suspended

He said: “John is a true giant of the SNP and the independence movement.

“Our party and our government owe much of our success to John’s hard work, from securing the council tax freeze in the early days of government, to expanding childcare as Education Secretary, finding the funds to help households through the cost of living crisis and enabling me to deliver fair pay for our NHS in recent weeks.

“John has long represented the good in our politics. His ability to win the respect of people from all political persuasions whilst passionately advocating his cause is an example everyone in politics should aspire to.

“On a personal level he has always been a source of advice and support to me in good times and bad, from my days as a young activist to becoming colleagues around the cabinet table.

“John would be any First Minister's top pick to be in Cabinet, but I respect the reasons he has outlined for standing down from Government once the First Minister demits office." 

Kate Forbes said that she had valued Swinney's advice to her over the years and wished him well for the future. 

"I have such respect and admiration for John Swinney.

"John Swinney is not only an incredibly able politician who has put public service at the heart of his career, he's also somebody who I'd call a friend. He's a friend to many MSPs and I have valued enormously his advice and guidance over the years. 

"I wish him well because he has put in some shift."