Sturgeon to resign as Scotland's leader



Nicola Sturgeon, who has dominated Scottish politics for almost a decade as first minister, is expected to quit on Wednesday, standing down with no obvious successor in place and dealing a blow to the fight for independence.

Sturgeon, 52, became the leader of the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum, when the country voted 55 percent to 45 percent to remain as part of the United Kingdom. She led her party to resounding success at the 2015 UK election and has retained control since, but has recently seen decisions overruled by the London government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, while a row over a gender recognition bill has disaffected many voters.

What she said

At a hastily-arranged media conference, Sturgeon called being first minister "a privilege beyond measure" but said she knew "when the time was right" to leave the position. "In my head and in my heart, I know the time is now."

"This decision is not a reaction to short-term pressures," she insisted, saying she had been "wrestling" for "weeks" with the idea of stepping down. However, she had come to the decision that the cause of Scottish independence would not necessarily be served better by her continuing in post.

Sturgeon described leading the country as "the toughest thing I have ever done" and cited the "physical and mental impact" of the role, including the lack of privacy. "Can I give this job everything it demands and deserves, every ounce of energy? The answer is [no]."

Sturgeon said Scotland is "at a critical moment" to insist "the will of the Scottish people will prevail" and said that decisions must be taken "by the SNP collectively, not me alone" – and that with party conference due next month, she could not allow her personal convictions to outweigh the opinions of others knowing that she may not wish to continue in the role.

The background

Sturgeon led her party to a resounding success at the 2015 UK election, winning 56 of 59 seats in Scotland and establishing it as Britain's third largest party, before she retained control over the devolved parliament at more recent elections.

But she has recently become embroiled in a row with the London government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and some of her own voters, over a gender recognition bill and London has blocked the path to another independence referendum.

Sturgeon's SNP suffered a blow in November when the United Kingdom's top court ruled that the Scottish government could not hold a second referendum without approval from the British parliament.

Sturgeon said in response that she would turn the next British general election, expected in late 2024, into a de facto referendum to ramp up the pressure on Westminster to grant another vote.

However, that move has not been met with universal approval within Sturgeon's party, and it is still far from certain that the country would back such a decision. Support for independence rose above 50 percent in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, but it has slipped back in recent months.

Sturgeon had also recently become embroiled in a row over transgender policies after Scotland passed a bill to make it easier for people to change their legal gender.

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak responded by saying it would block the bill, the first time it had invoked the power to veto a Scottish law, because it would have a broader impact on the United Kingdom.

Scotland was then forced to review the management of trans prisoners and stop transgender people with a history of violence against women being placed in female prisons.

However, as recently as three weeks ago Sturgeon insisted she had "plenty left in the tank" and that she still wanted to be the leader who takes Scotland to independence.

Sturgeon served as deputy to her predecessor as SNP leader, Alex Salmond, for seven years. There is much less clarity over who might replace her – but it's something the SNP has to decide soon.