Michael Russell has resigned as SNP president aand given up his party membership of almost 50 years after being nominated as chairman of the Scottish Land Commission.

The SNP said Mr Russell was giving up the role in order to take on the non political post which requires to be approved by the Scottish Parliament.

It is understood he is no longer a member of the party.

Mr Russell was first elected SNP president in November 2020, and was also acting chief executive for a short period earlier this year when Peter Murrell stood down in the wake of a row over party membership figures and incorrect information supplied to the press.

READ MORE: SNP facing biggest crisis in 50 years, says president Mike Russell

His exit as president of the SNP will be a blow to the party which is facing a challenge from a resurgent Labour party ahead of the General Election, expected next year.  

Polls have given conflicting assessments of the two parties support, with one by Ipsos Mori this week suggesting the SNP had a 10 point lead over Labour in Westminster voting intentions, while another published on the same day by Redfield and Wilton put Labour ahead of the SNP by two points.

Mr Russell served as a cabinet minister in the governments of both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon - including as constitution secretary under the latter first minister - before standing down as an MSP at the Holyrood election in May 2021.

In an interview with The Herald earlier this year he said the SNP was going through its biggest crisis in 50 years and that he thought independence could not be secured "right now".

READ MORE: 'I don’t think Scottish independence can be secured right now'

SNP Leader Humza Yousaf said: “On behalf of the SNP,  I’d like to give my heartfelt thanks to Michael for his outstanding contribution to the party over almost five decades - a true stalwart of the SNP and the wider independence movement.

“Michael has been a member of our party since before I was born and, throughout all the highs and lows of that period, he has served the SNP in almost every conceivable way - as an party activist, as Chief Executive, as a politician and as our Party President. 

“He’s a deeply respected and much-loved figure in our party – and rightly so - and has always been there to provide support and guidance to me personally and to many others whenever it has been needed, helping our party to remain anchored to our core values.

READ MORE: SNP president Michael Russell faces challenge from party activist

“The party owes Michael a great debt of gratitude and I wish him all the very best as he seeks to begin a new and very important role in Scottish life, in an area of work which he has long supported."

Mr Russell joined the SNP in 1974 and first stood for election in Clydesdale at the 1987 election, being elected as a senior office bearer the same year.

He became the first full-time chief executive of the party in December 1994, holding that post until he was elected to the Scottish Parliament as a list MSP for South of Scotland in May 1999.

He lost his seat in 2003 but returned to serve the same region from 2007 to 2011 before he was elected as the MSP for the Argyll and Bute constituency, a position he held until retiring in 2021. 

During this time he also served in the Scottish Government, being appointed as Environment Minister in the first SNP Government in 2007 and subsequently holding the posts of Culture Minister and then Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.

He left government in late 2014 but returned in August 2016 becoming Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, then Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, and, latterly, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs.

The SNP said that after an independent process, Mr Russell has been recommended for appointment to be Chair of the Scottish Land Commission - an appointment which is subject to the approval of the Scottish Parliament.  

Parliamentary scrutiny of the recommendation will now take place and the final decision on appointment will, as the legislation requires, be made by the Parliament. 

Mr Russell saw off a challenge from an activist for the role as party president at the SNP's conference in October.

It is not clear who his successor will be or whether a member of the party's ruling body the national executive committee will step into the role.

It is understood the party’s ruling body, the national executive committee, will discuss the matter at a future meeting and any announcement will be made in due course.

The SNP’s constitution under Paragraph 25 states: “The President is an honorary position in the Party, elected in recognition of distinguished service to the Party.”

Paragraph 31.2 states: “If a National Office Bearer’s post falls vacant before Annual National Conference, the vacancy may be filled by the National Executive Committee.”

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: “It speaks volumes for the state of the feuding, scandal-ridden SNP, that Mike Russell would want to desert a sinking ship in favour of a cushy job with a Scottish government quango.

“But many people will question whether someone so partisan and tribally devoted to Humza Yousaf’s party is the right person to lead the Scottish Land Commission.”