Born in 1964, he joined the Scottish National Party in 1979 and went on to graduate from Edinburgh University with an MA (Hons) in Politics. He has worked for the Scottish Coal Project, Development Options and Scottish Amicable.
Prior to his election as Westminster MP for North Tayside in 1997, he held a number of posts in the SNP at local and national level. In 1999, he became the MSP for Tayside North, remaining as the constituency’s MP until standing down from Westminster at the 2001 General Election.
From 1998 to 2000, he served as deputy leader of the SNP, and then as party leader between 2000 and 2004. He was re-elected as an MSP at the 2011 Scottish Parliament election and appointed Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth. He was appointed as Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy in November 2014. In 2016 he was appointed Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. He was appointed Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery in May 2021.