Scotland’s first minister has announced she will step aside after eight years in power. What does Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation mean for Scottish independence?
“Today, I am announcing my intention to step down as First Minister and leader of my party. I have asked the National Secretary of the SNP to begin the process of electing a new party leader.”Nicola Sturgeon
After eight years serving as Scotland’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon has resigned.
It came as a shock – she is the longest serving First Minister and less than a month ago, she was insisting she still had “plenty left in the tank”.
She’s left a Scottish National Party in search of new leadership and her life-long mission – Scottish independence – unfinished.
“Be in no doubt 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.”Nicola Sturgeon
Her resignation wasn’t expected, so why has she decided to step down?
Nicola Sturgeon says part of the reason is personal.
In her speech at Bute House – the first minister’s official residence – she described how the always-on nature of the job, the lack of privacy, and the polarisation of British politics had all taken their toll…
“The nature and form of modern political discourse means that there is a much greater intensity – dare I say it, brutality – to life as a politician than in years gone by.”Nicola Sturgeon
But she was also keen to stamp out any suggestion that her resignation was due to troubles within the SNP.
And there have been quite a few of those recently…
Despite Nicola Sturgeon’s popularity, her government has faced growing criticism over its less-than-glowing record on the NHS, drug-related deaths and education.
“Our education system has been maltreated by the SNP. Their end of year report card reads: must do better.”Stephen Kerr, Conservative MSP
And the party has its fair share of internal problems too.
The SNP was recently found to have broken election finance rules on three occasions by failing to declare, on time, a £100,000 loan from Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, who is the party’s chief executive.
Then there’s a bill that was introduced by Nicola Sturgeon’s government and passed by the Scottish Parliament that allows trans people to self-identify.
A bill that was vetoed by the government in Westminster because it argued it would interfere with UK-wide equality laws.
“The British government says it will block a bill passed by the Scottish parliament making it easier for people to change their legal gender.”DW News
Critics will say Nicola Sturgeon’s determination to push through with gender reform was the nail in the coffin for her career as First Minister.
But that’s not the whole picture.
Nicola Sturgeon spent 16 years at the very top of Scottish politics. She witnessed four Conservative Prime Ministers depart Number 10 during her time as leader. Even a week ago, one poll found that 45 percent of Scots wanted her to remain in the job until the next election.
But for Nicola Sturgeon certain issues had become too polarising.
And when it came to her main aim – independence – she felt she was running out of options. So what does this mean for Scotland’s future?
“The longer any leader is in office, the more opinions about them become fixed and very hard to change. And that matters.”Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear she’s not the person who will bring about independence.
But it’s also not clear what avenues are left for her successor to take.
Westminster has refused to grant another referendum.
And while parties supporting independence won the majority of seats at the last Scottish Parliament election, that has not shifted the debate.
A legal challenge on the Scottish government’s right to hold a vote without Westminster’s consent was defeated in the Supreme Court.
That leaves one final avenue, to declare the next Westminster elections a de facto referendum on Scottish independence, but even Nicola Sturgeon admits that’s flawed…
“I’ve never pretended it’s perfect. No second best option ever is, nor that there are no alternatives. That is why I have always been clear that the decision must be taken by the SNP collectively, not by me alone.”Nicola Sturgeon
A decision about whether to pursue that strategy was due to be made at a special SNP conference in March. But it’s not clear that the party will have a new leader by then, or indeed who that will be…
Whoever wins, it’s clear that an era of stability under Nicola Sturgeon is over.
Unionists will be quietly celebrating her departure as she was widely viewed as one of the best communicators in modern politics.
But it would be foolish to think that this is the end of separatism. Half of Scots still want independence, some polls already show a majority for it, and it is especially popular among younger voters.
During the last independence referendum in 2014, the SNP said it was a “once in a generation” opportunity.
With the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon you could argue that generation has finally exhausted its chance.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t another generation to come.
This episode was written by Barney Macintyre and mixed by Imy Harper.