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by Margaret Taylor & Louise Wilson
15 February 2023
Nicola Sturgeon resigns as First Minister

Nicola Sturgeon resigns as First Minister

Nicola Sturgeon has announced her resignation as First Minister at a press conference in Edinburgh.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, she said should could no long "give it [the job] every ounce of energy that it needs". 

While saying being First Minister has been a "privilege beyond measure" and she was "proud" to be the first female incumbent, she said she had been mulling the decision in recent weeks, adding: “In my head and in my heart, I know that time is now. It is right for me, for my party and my country”.

Sturgeon has been first minister since 2014, taking over from Alex Salmond, who stood down after running an unsuccessful independence campaign.

She has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks over her bid to reform the Gender Recognition Act as well as for her plan to turn the next election into a de facto independence referendum.

However, Sturgeon insisted her decision was "not a reaction to short-term pressures".

She also said that her not being leader at the time of the SNP special conference next month would "free the SNP to choose the path it believes to be the right one". 

And on independence more broadly, she said the "support needs to be solidified" and "we must reach across the divide in Scottish politics and my judgement now is that a new leader will be better able to do this.”

Exclusive polling carried out by Lord Ashcroft and published in Holyrood earlier this week revealed that SNP voters are split over the de facto referendum plan, with fewer than half of those who voted SNP in the 2019 general election in favour of using the next one as a means to determine the public's will on independence.

The research also found that half of voters believe the UK Government was correct to block the Scottish Government's gender reforms, although a third said it was wrong to use Section 35 powers to do so.

Sturgeon, who is Scotland's longest-serving first minister, pushed the gender reforms through prior to Christmas, whipping her MSPs to vote in favour of the controversial Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

The legislation led to a split within the party, with community safety minister Ash Regan resigning over the issue and a number of other MSPs defying the whip because they had concerns about some aspects of the bill.

Scottish secretary Alister Jack subsequently used Section 35 of the Scotland Act to prevent the bill from being enacted, citing concerns that it would impinge on the UK-wide Equality Act.

Sturgeon has been a member of the SNP since she was a teenager, campaigning for Kay Ullrich – who ultimately became an MSP in 1999 – in her unsuccessful 1987 Westminster campaign.

In 1992 she stood for the Glasgow Shettleston constituency, when she was trounced by Labour, and was again beaten by Labour when she stood for Glasgow Govan in 1997.

She became a list MSP in the first Scottish Parliament election and quickly rose through the ranks to become Salmond's deputy leader in 2004 then deputy first minister and health minister in 2007.

She is to remain as an MSP until "at least" the 2026 Scottish Parliament election, focusing on The Promise, access to justice for victims of sexual assault, and independence, from the backbenches.

Sturgeon is currently embroiled in controversy over a £107,000 loan her husband – SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – made to the party in June 2021.

The loan was not declared within the timeframe set out by the Electoral Commission and Murrell was not identified as the source of the loan in the party's accounts.

It is understood that Police Scotland are looking into the loan as part of a wider investigation into what happened to money raised as part of an indyref2 crowdfunder.

Sturgeon refused to comment on the investigation.

Last month Sturgeon indicated that she had no plans to step down in the near future, telling the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme that she had "plenty in the tank at the moment".

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has thanked Sturgeon for her service, but added her resignation "presents a welcome opportunity for the Scottish Government to change course and to drop its divisive obsession with independence".

He said: "A new First Minister will have a real chance to re-focus the Scottish Government on what they were elected to do - improve public services such as health and education that people rely on and that are vital to Scotland's future success."

The Scottish Greens, with whom her party is in government, described her as the "most significant political figure of the devolution era".

In a joint statement, co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater said: "Nicola Sturgeon has truly been a major figure in Scottish and UK politics in her decisive, tireless and collaborative leadership through unprecedented challenges and we are sorry to see her step down."

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: "While we have disagreed passionately about what is best for our people, I have never for a moment doubted her passion for Scotland... But our country, now more than ever, requires a politics focussed on delivering the change Scotland needs - by uniting Scotland and not dividing it."

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