Kate Forbes chose to turn down a cabinet post to allow for a better work life balance, Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said.
The former finance secretary narrowly missed out on the top job herself, taking 48% of the vote to Humza Yousaf’s 52% in the second round in the SNP leadership race.
On Tuesday she turned down the post of rural affairs secretary – seen by many to be a demotion – instead returning to the backbenches and endangering the First Minister’s chances of being able to reunite a party that felt the full impact of a bruising leadership contest.
She was on maternity leave when Nicola Sturgeon announced she would resign and throughout the leadership campaign, planning to return in the coming weeks.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland in her first interview since being appointed to the post just minutes after Mr Yousaf was elected First Minister, Ms Robison said: “I understand that the discussion was very cordial and was very much centred on what Kate’s thoughts were and I think she had reflected upon how hard the campaign had been for family life and her desire for a better work life balance and she decided that time out of the spotlight would be best to spend time with her family, which is understandable.”
The First Minister did consider her for other positions, Ms Robison said, but ultimately she made the decision to go to the backbenches.
But the comments come after Ms Robison said during the leadership race she would have to consider serving under Ms Forbes if she had won the role.
Ms Robison praised the former finance secretary, saying she has “great talents” and hopes she will consider a return to the frontbench.
Mr Yousaf will announce his cabinet on Wednesday after being sworn in at the Court of Session, with the newly minted ministers visiting him at his official residence in Bute House.
According to Ms Robison, the new top team will be different from that of Mr Yousaf’s predecessor.
Although she rejected the assertion that meant the cabinet would lack frontline political experience, saying: “It will be a mix of the many skills and talents that the SNP parliamentary group has.”
The Deputy First Minister is likely also to be given a cabinet portfolio, as has been customary since the SNP took power, but Ms Robison said she would not accept moving back to health – where she spent around three-and-a-half years.
“It’s not a role I would take on again,” she said.
“But I’ve been in government for many years … nearly 16 years in government and I would want to bring that experience I’ve had in many roles to support the First Minister and to get down to business of the priorities that Humza Yousaf has laid out.”