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24 May, 2024
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Nicola Sturgeon resigns as Scotland's first minister

Scotland’s longest-serving first minister will remain in her position until her successor is chosen

Source: The Guardian

Nicola Sturgeon will stand down as first minister of Scotland, she has announced at a press conference.

In a shocking decision, Scotland’s longest-serving first minister said she had instructed the Scottish National Party (SNP) to begin the process of electing a new leader and would remain in office until her successor is chosen.

The SNP leader has had a series of political setbacks recently, including the UK supreme court defeat of her plans for a fresh independence referendum and a damaging row over a double rapist being sent to a female jail after announcing she was a trans woman.

Setting out “as best as I can my reasons”, Sturgeon told the press conference at Bute House in Edinburgh on Wednesday: “First, though I know it will be tempting to see it as such, this decision is not a reaction to short-term pressures. Of course, there are difficult issues confronting the government just now, but when is that ever not the case?

“I have spent almost three decades in frontline politics, a decade and a half on the top or second-top rung of government. When it comes to navigating choppy waters, resolving seemingly intractable issues, or soldiering on when walking away would be the simpler option, I have plenty of experience to draw on.

“So if this was just a question of my ability or my resilience to get through the latest period of pressure I wouldn’t be standing here today, but it’s not. This decision comes from a deeper and longer-term assessment. I know it may seem sudden, but I have been wrestling with it, albeit with oscillating levels of intensity for some weeks.

“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?”

There had been growing speculation that Sturgeon was preparing to stand down at the next Scottish parliamentary election, but not so abruptly. She had repeatedly told reporters she had no plans to quit and intended to lead the Scottish government and SNP into the Holyrood elections in 2026.

Yet a series of opinion polls have shown popular support for Sturgeon personally and for the SNP and independence has fallen in recent weeks, partly fuelled by the intense controversy over the rapist Isla Bryson.

It remains unclear who could succeed Sturgeon or if she will announce the appointment of an interim leader.

John Swinney, her trusted deputy first minister and one of few senior figures in her small inner circle, could throw his hat into the ring. After Sturgeon, he has the most experience in government and within the SNP.

However, Swinney briefly served as SNP leader in the early 2000s after Alex Salmond unexpectedly quit as party leader. Swinney had a difficult time and in turn resigned to allow Salmond to resume as leader.

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Another strong favourite will be Angus Robertson, the Scottish culture and external affairs secretary and a former Westminster leader of the SNP. He has experience running SNP election campaigns and, alongside Swinney, is one of the few veterans of the Salmond era. He is not liked on the left of the party after forcing through a change of SNP policy to support Scotland joining Nato, before the 2014 independence referendum.

Another candidate could be Kate Forbes, the Scottish finance secretary, currently on maternity leave after having her first child. Liked within the party and respected at Holyrood, Forbes would be the youngest SNP leader if she won.

She would, however, face questions about her religious beliefs. She is an active member of the Free Church of Scotland, whose teachings conflict with many key SNP and Scottish government policies on gay rights and transgender policy.

Humza Yousaf, one of Scotland’s most senior Muslim and BAME politicians, is another potential candidate. Currently the health secretary, a key position in Sturgeon’s government, he has faced repeated demands from opposition parties that he resign over continual crises in the NHS, particularly over his failure to tackle delays in A&E waiting times.

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