After graduating, he became the senior researcher for the Labour Party in Scotland, until 1976 when he left Labour to help form the Scottish Labour Party. After the 1979 general election he worked in America before returning to Scotland and forming his own economic consultancy business. In 1985 he joined the SNP and stood as their candidate in the 1989 Glasgow Central by-election.
After election to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 he became firstly SNP spokesperson for social justice before chairing the Parliament’s Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee from 2000-2003 and again 2004 till 2007. From 2007 Alex was vice-Convenor of the European and External Relations Committee and member of the Finance Committee. He was also co-Convenor of the Cross-Party Group on the Scottish Economy and on the Council of Europe’s Local and Regional Authorities Association. In February 2009 he became the Scottish Government Minister for Housing and Communities. In May 2011, Alex was appointed Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment. Then in September 2012 he became Cabinet Secretary for Health and Well-being.
Alex is married with one son, and lives in Ayr.