Despite her failure to secure a second referendum, Nicola Sturgeon insisted the independence campaign will succeed - Carl Dinnen reports
Nicola Sturgeon has announced her intention to resign as First Minister of Scotland after eight years in the post, saying "the time is now".
The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader made the announcement at a press conference held at her residence in Edinburgh on Wednesday morning.
Ms Sturgeon said she has asked the national secretary of the SNP to start the process of electing a new party leader, adding that she will remain in office into her successor is elected.
She said the decision, while hard to make, came from a place of "duty" and "tough love", and not one that was in reaction to short-term political pressures.
“In my head and in my heart I know that time is now. That it is right for me, for my party and for the country," she told journalists.
"And so today I am announcing my intention to step down as First Minister and leader of my party.”
"This decision comes from a deeper and longer term assessment. I know it might seem sudden but I have been wrestling with it, albeit with oscillating levels of intensity, for some weeks," Ms Sturgeon continued.
Nicola Sturgeon's big political aim was Independence for Scotland - where does her resignation leave that campaign?
“Essentially, I’ve been trying to answer two questions: Is carrying on right for me? And more importantly is me carrying on right for the country, for my party and for the independence cause I have devoted my life to?”
"In truth, I have been having to work harder in recent times to convince myself that the answer to either of them when examined deeply is yes. And I have reached the difficult conclusion that it is not."
She added that she no longer felt she could give the job of First Minister everything it deserves, and said she felt she had a duty to say so now.
The SNP leader described governing Scotland through the pandemic as “by far the toughest thing I’ve done”, adding the weight of responsibility was “immense”. “It’s only very recently I think that I’ve started to comprehend, let alone process, the physical and mental impact of it on me," she said.
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston described the resignation statement as "truly remarkable", saying that Ms Sturgeon has been one of the most important politicians of this generation.
He highlighted two important references in her statement: that she did not have enough energy to continue in her high-pressured role and that she may have become too much of a polarising politician among the electorate.
Ms Sturgeon will leave office as the longest serving and first female First Minister since the creation of the Scottish Parliament, a time which saw her lead the SNP to repeated election victories at UK, Scottish and local level.
She indicated she will continue on the backbenches as an MSP “until, certainly, the next election” for Holyrood, which is due in 2026.
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.
Answering media questions after her speech, Ms Sturgeon conceded she will have regrets over some of her moments as First Minister, but insisted she was also proud of her time in the role.
"I’m a human being. I don’t know if you’ve got regrets about things in your life? Of course I have got regrets about all sorts of things in my life," she said.
"And as I reflect on my time as First Minister there will be things I am hugely proud of, and things that I regret, and if I had my time again I might do differently.”
“I’ve been Nicola Sturgeon the politician for all of my life. It’s been a privilege,” she said, adding: “Having reached this stage in my life, maybe I want to spend a bit of time on Nicola Sturgeon the person, the human being, and contribute differently."
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he wishes Ms Sturgeon "all the best for her next steps", reiterating his vow to deliver for people across Scotland through a close working partnership between Westminster and Holyrood.
Sunak said he and Sturgeon 'didn't always see eye-to-eye' but is proud of the work they have achieved together
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, meanwhile, has said his party “stands ready to be the change that Scotland needs” as he wished Ms Sturgeon “all the best for her next steps” following her resignation announcement. “Nicola Sturgeon has been at the forefront of not just Scottish but UK politics for over two decades,” he tweeted. “She’s served with dedication and passion. I wish her all the best for her next steps."
In reaction to the news of the departure, SNP MP Stewart McDonald described Ms Sturgeon as “the finest public servant of the devolution age”, sharing a photograph of himself with her. “Her public service, personal resilience and commitment to Scotland is unmatched, and she has served our party unlike anyone else," he wrote.
Scottish Health and Social Care Secretary Humza Yousaf, a potential candidate to replace Ms Sturgeon as SNP leader, has said he is “gutted” to see her standing down. “I have had enormous pleasure of being in her Govt for the time she has been (First Minister), and I can safely say she has always put interests of the Country first, and governed for all of Scotland," he tweeted. “She is right, politics can be brutal, it impacts on our relationships, our families and of course on our own physical and mental health. “I hope the FM gets to experience some kind of normality upon standing down, she certainly deserves it."
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill also paid tribute to Ms Sturgeon, saying she made huge gains for the cause of Scottish independence.
“As a friend and colleague, we have worked closely together in recent years, and I have seen the depth of dedication, commitment and energy that Nicola has given," she said. “I wish to pay tribute to the huge strides she has made in advancing the campaign for Scottish independence, the strong stance against Brexit and the undermining of devolution by the Tories in London. “The world of politics and all those of us who have had the great pleasure of working with Nicola Sturgeon will miss her leadership."
The First Minister, however, has been mired in controversy in recent months as her government sought to push through gender reforms, only for them to be blocked by the UK government.
And recent weeks have seen her forced to deal with the housing of transgender prisoners in women’s facilities.
Rising to power unopposed after the ill-fated independence referendum in 2014, Nicola Sturgeon took over from Alex Salmond, the mentor with whom she would come into conflict with in the years to come over the handling of sexual harassment allegations made against him. But the First Minister stands down without realising her key political mission – independence for Scotland.
Her party will meet next month to discuss the holding of treating the next UK election as a “de facto referendum”, with more than 50% of the vote being considered a mandate to begin negotiations for Scotland to become an independent country.
However, it will come after two thirds of voters expressed opposition to Ms Sturgeon's plans to fight the upcoming general election as a de facto independence referendum, according to a new poll. A survey by Lord Ashcroft Polls cast doubt on the SNP’s plans to treat the election, which must be held before January 2025, on the sole issue of the constitution. The poll, which surveyed 2,105 Scots between January 26 and February 3, found that just one in five, or 21%, of respondents agreed the general election should be held on the single issue.
Sir Keir Starmer will 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.
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