JOHN Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon “wrestled” with the idea of leaving at the same time, the Deputy First Minister has said.

Swinney announced on Thursday his plans to step down when a new first minister is appointed, bringing to an end his near-16 year career at the top of the Scottish Government.

In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, he said he looked forward to serving alongside her on the backbenches, describing serving in government as “the privilege of my live”.

The Deputy First Minister said having big figures such as himself and the First Minister in Cabinet can make it hard for other ministers to “take the lead”, but he praised the talent in his party and in government when asked if losing so much experience could be detrimental.

“The First Minister and I have talked about (leaving at the same time) and wrestled with it, but I think we both accept that we are big figures within the Scottish Government, and that’s a strength, because we’ve obviously got a lot of experience and expertise,” he told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme.

The National: The pair have worked together since they entered politicsThe pair have worked together since they entered politics (Image: Archive)

“But it’s also quite an obstacle to the flourishing of individuals because there’s not an awful lot that happens in government unless the First Minister or Deputy First Minister has been consulted about things, so it doesn’t allow other colleagues to be able to come to conclusions, take the lead, take the initiative.”

He added: “The thing that reassures me is that there’s many, many talented individuals around the Cabinet table just now and within our parliamentary group, and I think those individuals have the opportunity to flourish.”

If the future government so choose, Swinney said, “they will have the opportunity to consult a couple of old hands” in himself and Sturgeon.

Asked who he would back in the ongoing leadership contest between Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, former community safety minister Ash Regan and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, Swinney refused to say.

“I’ve not come to any conclusions, I’m listening to the debate, I’m observing the contest and if I feel the need to say something then I will do,” he said.

READ MORE: Michael Russell's tribute to John Swinney as he plans to step down

Following his decision to stand down, Swinney received praise from across Holyrood for his tenure, with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar speaking of his respect for the Deputy First Minister.

“John Swinney has been an elected member in Scotland for almost 30 years, he’s been at the heart of Government for 16 years, I of course have lots of disagreements with him, but you have to accept that is an incredible level of public service to Scotland,” Sarwar said.

“I have never, in all of our arguments, doubted his passion and love for Scotland and his want to do the right thing.

“Everybody deserves thanks for that level of service and I genuinely wish him all the best for whatever he chooses to do next with his life.”