The Labour veteran has confirmed he will not seek re-election for the Greenock and Inverclyde seat in May, saying the time has come to retire and spend more time with his family.

Mr McNeil, 64, will serve out the remainder of the current Holyrood term but believes it is time for a fresh start within the party locally while there are wholesale changes for Labour north and south of the border.

The former Greenock shipyard worker was first elected to the new Scottish Parliament in 1999 — his proudest moment — and has successfully fought four elections in total.

Mr McNeil told the Tele: “I’m 65 in a few weeks and it’s time for me to slow things down a bit.

“I’d be offering myself for re-election next year — my 66th year — and a five-year parliamentary term takes me to nearly 72 and I think in those circumstances there’s lots of good people locally and in the party who can make that transition and I think it’s important that they allow that transition to take place.

“The highlight was being the first elected representative to a new Scottish Parliament for some 300 years but what I’ve said is I’m not standing again — I’ll make the retirement speech at the end of the term because work continues.” For the time being the Labour MSP — who won with a majority of just 500 four years ago — says there is plenty to do between now and the election.

Mr McNeil, who is convener of the Scottish Parliament’s influential health and sport committee, said: “There’s still lots to do and I’ll be working away hard at that between now and next year.

“Inverclyde is on hold at this moment in time — we’re on hold worrying about the privatisation of CalMac and what that’ll do to the headquarters, jobs and pensions of hundreds of people working at Gourock.

“We’re still pushing on the replacement for Ravenscraig Hospital, we’re still waiting on an answer for the new health centre and working away to ensure the future and future orders for Ferguson’s.

“We’re not resting on our laurels, we’ve got lots and lots to do and we’ll be doing that between now and the end of the year and then I’ll maybe be able to make a retirement speech at that point – but I’m afraid you’re stuck with me until next year!” The Labour MSP insists his decision to stand down is not a reaction to the huge rise in support for the SNP locally and nationally.

He said: “I’ve stood in four elections and won four elections, we won in the Scottish Parliament against the trend in 2011 and it’s important that we do our best in 2016.

“Part of that process is what the Labour Party is dealing with now — freshening up their message, putting in place new leaders, a deputy leader contest and opening up all of their selection processes. In that context, thinking about the future, I think you’ve got to give people here their opportunity to renew their party and I’ll certainly not be going away.

“I’ll be supporting that candidate and working for that candidate at the election and I’ll be Labour ’til I die.”