John Swinney has tried to quit the Scottish Government several times over the past seven years but has been repeatedly denied by Nicola Sturgeon.
The deputy first minister said he had approached the SNP leader on a number of occasions about stepping down but had been persuaded to stay.
The senior SNP figure revealed he had attempted to resign after the 2016 and 2021 Holyrood elections but said Sturgeon “basically wouldn’t countenance me leaving government”.
The First Minister confirmed the account, telling the BBC’s Nicola Sturgeon podcast she did “everything in my power to talk him out of it”.
Sturgeon described Swinney as “the most important person in my adult life outside my husband and family”.
Swinney said came “incredibly close” to resigning over the Scottish Government’s controversial exam results system during the Covid pandemic in 2020.
The deputy first minister, who was the education secretary at the time, presided over a moderation system that caused the grades of some pupils from deprived areas to be downgraded because of the historic performance of their school.
Following the outcry, the system was scrapped with students receiving the recommended grades from their teachers.
He later survived a vote of no confidence at Holyrood over the moderation system in an opposition bid to oust him.
Speaking about the exams system, Swinney said: “I persuaded the First Minister that was the right thing to do, and it turned out to be the wrong thing to do.
“I came incredibly close to resigning. Very, very close because I felt I had made a mistake.
“l remember reading a comment which said surely the kids in Scotland could have been given a break, because everything else has been turned upside down.
“And I thought, ‘that’s your mistake mate, you should own it’.”
Just before Christmas in 2022, Swinney said he had told Sturgeon about his intention to leave the Government once his role of acting finance secretary ended when Kate Forbes returned from maternity leave.
He said on that occasion, Sturgeon did not try to stop him as she had done before.
The First Minister admitted she may have already been thinking about her own future at that point.
She said: “If you’d said to me then that come the middle of February you’re going to be announcing your resignation, I would have said, don’t be ridiculous.
“But looking back on it, I think subconsciously I was already grappling with that, and maybe in my response to John there was a sense of what deep down inside maybe I knew was coming for me as well.”
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