Nicol Stephen to stand down in May

Nicol Stephen MSP has announced he is standing down after nearly three decades in public life, first being elected a councillor, then an MP and latterly an MSP for Aberdeen South.

This isn’t the first time that Nicol has taken the Scottish political world by surprise with an unexpected announcement – just over two years ago he stood down as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats deciding to put his family first. Nicol and his wife Caris have four children – Macleod, 15, Mirrhyn, 13, Mharni, 9, and Drummond, 6.

I recall the day really well and my phone was buzzing with questions from journalists, albeit the same question: what is the real reason? Well, I can let you all into a secret now. The answer we gave then was that he was standing down to spend more time with his family – because it was true. No spin, just fact.

Nicol said yesterday evening,

I have decided to stand down after serving in the Scottish Parliament for 12 years. It has been a great privilege to represent the city where I was born and grew up.

Over the years I have been involved in many successful campaigns, such as saving Garthdee and Cults libraries from closure, securing the building of new schools in Aberdeen, and sanctioning the re-opening of Laurencekirk Station. But the greatest satisfaction has often come from helping local constituents on a whole range of planning, transport, health and education issues.

At the national level, being an MSP and a Minister also gave me the opportunity to make a difference – such as the abolition of student tuition fees in Scotland, the drive for more renewable energy, introducing enterprise education in our schools, and the setting up of the Calman Commission to give more powers to the Scottish Parliament.

I could not have achieved any of this without the help and hard work of many people. I would like to thank everyone who has given me such strong support over the years.

However, I will be staying very much involved in local politics. And I have a few campaigns still to win – such as saving Harlaw Academy from closure, building a full Olympic-sized swimming pool in Aberdeen and getting a fair funding deal for our city. So there is still a lot to do over the next seven months.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott MSP has paid tribute to Nicol’s contribution, saying,

Nicol has made an enormous contribution to both the North East and to Scotland.

I’ve known and worked with Nicol since his seminal Kincardine & Deeside by-election win in 1991and we’ve shared many exciting political times since.

The first Scottish coalition in 1999 was put together by Nicol, after he won the Aberdeen South constituency in the Scottish Parliament. He played a huge role in Ministerial life, ultimately as Scotland’s Deputy First Minister.

I will miss his presence, strategic approach and sense of humour as a colleague and above all a friend in Holyrood. I wish Caris and the entire Stephen tribe all my best wishes and happiness for their future.

I first met Nicol Stephen in January 2007 when only days after being appointed as the Lib Dems Campaigns Officer for London I was dispatched to Inverurie, Aberdeenshire to assist in Nora Radcliffe’s campaign against Alex Salmond.

Nicol was driven to win and keen to stand on the record of the eight years of successful coalition with Labour (you see readers, coalition isn’t that new in the UK, just the media down south didn’t realise) but Scotland wanted change and the SNP were offering it.

Three years later the voters of Scotland have realised that the SNP have let them down and have u-turned on their 2007 election pledges.

Only weeks after I arrived in Scotland as the Deputy Director of Campaigns, Nicol resigned as leader – I am sure there is no connection.

In Scotland we have delivered on key election pledges, including the abolition of student tuition fees in Scotland. Nicol Stephen was the minister that instructed the abolition of fees. Nicol we salute you for that.

Nicol Stephen has been the MSP for Aberdeen South since the first Scottish Parliament elections in 1999. He was Deputy First Minister of Scotland from 2005 to 2007 and leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats from 2005 to 2008.

He has held a number of ministerial posts in the Scottish Government, including:

  • Minister for Enterprise & Lifelong Learning (2005 to 2007)
  • Minister for Transport (2003 to 2005)
  • Deputy Minister for Education & Young People (2001 to 2003)
  • Deputy Minister for Education, Europe & External Affairs (2000 to 2001)
  • Deputy Minister for Enterprise & Lifelong Learning (1999 to 2000)

He has taken a major interest in renewable energy and as Scottish Enterprise Minister encouraged the commercialisation of wave and tidal power by introducing a banded green credits system that gave extra support to marine renewables for the first time in the UK. He won the award as Green Energy Politician of the Year in 2006. His citation stated: “For his passionate support in Scotland and abroad for renewable energy and recent commitments to 100% green electricity in Scotland by 2050” (As Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats he set a target of 100% of Scotland’s energy being generated from renewable sources by 2050.)

In 2007 he helped to initiate the Calman Commission – a major review of Scottish devolution, which recommended extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament. The current UK coalition government is now committed to implementing the key recommendations of the Calman Commission.

In both 1999 and 2003 Nicol Stephen was a member of the Liberal Democrat negotiating teams which entered into coalition agreements with the Scottish Labour Party.

In government, Nicol Stephen has been involved in several high profile positions. In 1999 he was the Minister who instructed the abolition of student tuition fees in Scotland. He chaired the Scottish Qualifications Authority review committee, which was formed after the Scottish exams crisis in 2000. He was chairman of the review of Enterprise Education in Scottish Schools, which resulted in the “Determined to Succeed” recommendations and major new funding for enterprise in schools. In 2002-03 he chaired a major review of physical education in Scotland’s schools. He also led the Government’s drive for improved school meals in Scotland as part of the Hungry for Success initiative.

He has also been responsible for piloting several important pieces of legislation through the Scottish Parliament, including improvements to the delivery of major transport projects and the creation of Scotland’s first National Parks. He was chair of the Forum for Renewable Energy in Scotland from 2005-07.

In government, Nicol Stephen has also given strong support to Scottish business, promoting key sectors such as energy, life sciences and electronics internationally in countries such as China, Japan, India and Russia.

Nicol Stephen attended various EU Council of Ministers meetings – and was the first Scottish Minister to lead for the UK Government at such a meeting. He was formerly a full member of the EU Committee of the Regions and is currently an alternate member.

Nicol Stephen has been a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit committee since 2008.

Nicol Stephen was the MP for Kincardine & Deeside from 1991 to 1992 following the by-election win. During this period he was a member of the Liberal Democrat Treasury Team in the House of Commons and his party’s spokesman on small business.

Nicol Stephen was a founding director of Grampian Enterprise, the local enterprise company for North East Scotland. He was the first chair of CREATE (the campaign for rail electrification from Aberdeen to Edinburgh.) He also founded the STAR Campaign to save Tor-na-Dee Hospital and Roxburghe House (a local hospice in Aberdeen). He was the first chairman of the Grampian Initiative – a business and political partnership formed to promote the economy in North East Scotland. He was made a “Grampian Ambassador” by the former Grampian Regional Council for his efforts to promote the region. Following the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, he became chairman for a time of the Friends of Gomel.

Nicol Stephen was elected as a member of Grampian Regional Council from 1982 to 1991 and was chair of its Economic Development and Planning Committee from 1986 to 1991.

Nicol Stephen is the Honorary President of the City of Aberdeen Swim Team (COAST) and is leading the campaign for an Olympic-sized 50m pool in Aberdeen. He is also a member of the cross party political advisory group of Reform Scotland – an independent think tank. He is also involved in a number of not-for-profit initiatives to promote science, sport and enterprise amongst young people across Scotland.

Andrew Reeves is Deputy Director of Campaigns for Scotland and blogs at

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This entry was posted in News and Scotland.

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