Nicola Sturgeon to resign as First Minister, saying ‘the time is now’

She said she will continue as an MSP on the backbenches at Holyrood.

Sam Blewett
Wednesday 15 February 2023 15:44 GMT
‘My time is now’: Nicola Sturgeon resigns as Scotland’s first minister

Nicola Sturgeon has announced she will stand down after eight years as First Minister, telling a press conference “the time is now”.

In a shock announcement on Wednesday, the SNP leader said she was not reacting to “short-term pressures” after a series of political setbacks.

The longest-serving – and first female – First Minister told a hastily arranged press conference she will remain in office while the SNP selects her successor.

“In my head and in my heart I know that time is now. That it’s right for me, for my party and my country,” she said.

Ms Sturgeon, who guided the nation through the coronavirus pandemic and led the SNP to repeated election victories at UK, Scottish and local level, acknowledged the “physical and mental impact” of the role.

“If the question is: can I battle on for another few months? Then the answer is yes, of course I can,” the 52-year-old said.

“Since my very first moments in the job I have believed a part of serving well would be to know almost instinctively when the time is right to make way for someone else,” she said from her residence at Bute House in Edinburgh.

“But if the question is: can I give this job everything it demands and deserves for another year, let alone for the remainder of this parliamentary term, give it every ounce of energy that it needs in the way that I have strived to do every day for the last eight years? The answer honestly is different.”

The First Minister has suffered a series of political challenges in recent months as her Government sought to push through gender reforms, only for them to be blocked by Westminster.

She insisted the row surrounding a transgender double rapist being sent to a women’s jail “wasn’t the final straw”, but said it is “time for someone else” to lead the party.

Ms Sturgeon acknowledged the “choppy waters” but insisted her resignation was not in response to the “latest period of pressure”.

“This decision comes from a deeper and longer-term assessment,” she said.

Ms Sturgeon rose to power unopposed after the independence referendum in 2014, in which the electorate vote to remain in the UK. She took over from Alex Salmond, the political mentor with whom she would come into conflict in the years to come over the handling of sexual harassment allegations made against him.

Last year the UK’s Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish Government does not have the power to hold another independence referendum, as Westminster blocked the move.

Her surprise exit led political commentators to draw parallels with the sudden resignation last month of Jacinda Ardern as New Zealand’s prime minister.

Ms Sturgeon had planned to fight the next general election as a de facto referendum on Scottish independence, but her exit now raises questions about the immediate future of the cause itself.

But she vowed to continue as an MSP on the backbenches at Holyrood and said her life-long cause of independence is “being won”.

Ms Sturgeon refused to answer questions about whether she had been interviewed – or expects to be questioned – in a police inquiry into £600,000 of party funds raised from members to fight an independence campaign.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak thanked Ms Sturgeon for her “long-standing service”, while his Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, said Ms Sturgeon had been a “formidable politician”.

I want to see a Scottish Government that works hand-in-hand with the UK Government to realise our full potential as a country

Alister Jack, Scottish Secretary

But Mr Jack added: “Her resignation presents a welcome opportunity for the Scottish Government to change course, and to drop its divisive obsession with independence.

“I want to see a Scottish Government that works hand-in-hand with the UK Government to realise our full potential as a country.”

Sir Keir Starmer will also be closely following the next steps as the rise of the SNP to the detriment of Labour has played a role in keeping the party out of power in Westminster.

Ms Sturgeon indicated she will continue as a backbencher “until, certainly, the next election” for Holyrood, which is due in 2026.

She described being First Minister as “the privilege of my life”, adding: “Nothing, absolutely nothing, I do in future will ever come anywhere close.”

Among those paying tribute to Ms Sturgeon was her potential successor, and current Scottish Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, who said he was “gutted” to see her standing down.

However, SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who has clashed with Ms Sturgeon particularly over gender issues, called for “reform and healing” in their party.

“Our party needs a leadership election that is about policies and not personalities,” she said.

“We must restore the SNP’s tradition of internal party democracy, open respectful debate and intellectual rigour, and we must also put the welfare of everyone living in Scotland back at the heart of our endeavours.”

Potential candidates to succeed Ms Sturgeon include External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson, Secretary for Finance and Economy Kate Forbes, and deputy first minister John Swinney.

It is understood the SNP national executive committee will meet soon to discuss a timetable for the leadership election.

After the appointment of a new leader, MSPs will be asked to vote for a new First Minister, with the agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens enough to secure their victory.

Former prime ministers Theresa May and Gordon Brown paid tribute to Ms Sturgeon, with Conservative Mrs May saying: “We disagree on many issues but I’d like to thank you Nicola Sturgeon for your long, tireless service to our country and for the professional relationship we maintained as leaders.

“I can assure you that there is plenty of scope to contribute from the backbenches.”

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