Nicola Sturgeon resigns as First Minister of Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon has had a long and impressive political career and is widely regarded as one of the most effective politicians of her generation.
Ms Sturgeon became the first woman first minister of Scotland back in 2014, succeeding Alex Salmond, and has since gone on to become the longest serving since devolution to Scotland.
But she has been involved in the SNP all her adult life, joining the party at the age of 16.
As first minister, she has secured election successes at every poll and continued to push for Scottish independence, campaigning for a second referendum on the decision.
She has helped achieved landslide election victories for the SNP, in 2011 under Alex Salmond’s tenure winning 20 of the 73 seats available and in 2016 increasing that to a total of 59 seats. She has also received widespread praise for her leadership of Scotland during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which her approval ratings increased to an unprecedented 89%. Despite all of her successes, however, history will record that her main ambition – to bring about Scottish independence – was not achieved. Sturgeon has been fighting for this cause since she was a teenager in Ayrshire in the 1980s.
Sturgeon did keep the flame burning after independence was rejected by a majority of Scotland’s voters in 2014 and yet she leaves office without sustained, significant majority support for turning her dream into reality.
‘I will always be a feminist’
There have been a number of tricky issues for Ms Sturgeon in recent months, including splits in the party over her approach to transgender rights, and over her bill on gender recognition.
Despite passing the legislation in Holyrood – which would have meant people could legally change their gender in Scotland without a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria – the bill was then blocked by Westminster, with ministers claiming it would have a “significant impact” on equalities.
Asked whether it was this issue that prompted her final decision, Ms Sturgeon said no, but made a plea for “a more rational approach to these debates”.
“One in particular right now is obviously controversial in its own right,” she added. “But I think layered onto the top of that, there has been people’s views about me, about independence and suddenly debates that should be rational and that we are capable as a country of having rationally become something [different].
“I will always be a voice for inclusion, for equality, for human rights and dignity and I have been, and will always be, a feminist.
“I will fight for women’s rights and I will stand up against threats to women’s rights every day that I have breath in my body.
“But I’ll also stand up for any stigmatised, discriminated against, marginalised, vulnerable group in society.
“And I believe these things can and must, in any progressive, liberal, inclusive society, find ways of co-existing and whatever role I play in politics in the future, I will always seek to do everything I can to turn that into a reality.”
SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who has been a longstanding critic of Ms Sturgeon’s approach on transgender issues, called for “reform and healing” in light of the first minister’s departure.
Nicola Sturgeon Stumbles Over Transgender Comments Relating To Trans Women
Does Scotland’s First Minister believe all trans women are women?— Peter A Smith (@PeterAdamSmith) January 30, 2023
Scottish Gov has just implemented an effective ban on trans prisoners who’ve committed sexual & violent crimes against women being moved to a women-only prison. @itvnews pic.twitter.com/DRbvItHZ3i
The leader of the SNP says the shock announcement is not down to “short term pressures” but because the job “can only be done for so long [and is] now in danger of becoming too long”.
The 52-year-old said it had been “the very best job in the world” and one that has “sustained and inspired me in good times and in the toughest hours of my toughest days”.
But Ms Sturgeon said she believed part of “serving well would be to know almost instinctively when the time is right” to step down, adding: “In my head and in my heart I know that time is now, that it is right for me and my party and for the country.”
The longest serving and first woman first minister insisted her decision was not down to “short term pressures”, such as the ongoing divisions in her party about transgender rights.
Instead, she said her exit “frees the SNP to choose the path it believes to be the right one” when it comes to Scottish independence – due to be discussed at a special conference next month – “without worrying about the perceived implications for my leadership”.
Ms Sturgeon said it was a personal decision too, saying: “I am not expecting violins here, but I am a human being as well as a politician. Giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less.
“But in truth that can only be done by anyone for so long. For me, it is now in danger of becoming too long.”
She added: “To those who do feel shocked or disappointed, or perhaps even a bit angry with me, please… be in no doubt that this is really hard for me.
“My decision comes from a place of duty and of love. Tough love, perhaps, but love nevertheless for my party and above all for the country.”
The first minister confirmed she would stay in post until somebody else takes over and remain as an MSP until at least the next Holyrood election.
She said the SNP would announce the process for electing a new leader over the coming days but refused to say who her preferred candidate would be.