Nicola Sturgeon resigns as SNP leader and Scotland's First Minister

She made the announcement at a press conference in Edinburgh on Wednesday

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Nicola Sturgeon has announced her resignation as Scotland's First Minister after more than eight years in the role, saying she knew in "her head and in her heart" it was time to go.

At a hastily arranged press conference at her official residence, Bute House, in Edinburgh on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon said the job had taken its toll on her as a human being.

She said she believed the cause of gaining independence for Scotland would be better served with someone new leading her party.

She insisted the decision was "not a reaction to short-term pressures" ― which include a stalled push towards independence and controversy over transgender rights prompted by the country's gender recognition reforms.

Ms Sturgeon said she had been wrestling with the decision for weeks, but decided it was the right time for herself, her party and the country.

"Since my very first moments in the job I have believed a part of serving well would be to know almost instinctively when the time is right to make way for someone else," said the Scottish National Party leader.

"In my head and in my heart I know that time is now. That it's right for me, for my party and my country."

Ms Sturgeon, who guided the nation through the coronavirus pandemic and led the SNP to repeated election victories at UK, Scottish and local level, said she is not leaving politics.

She will remain in office until a successor is elected. Possible candidates include Deputy First Minister John Swinney and current Health and Social Care Secretary Humza Yousaf.

"If the question is can I battle on for another few months then the answer is yes, of course I can," the 52-year-old said.

"But if the question is can I give this job everything it demands and deserves for another year, let alone for the remainder of this parliamentary term, give it every ounce of energy that it needs in the way that I have strived to do every day for the last eight years, the answer honestly is different."

The SNP leader said she knew there were some people who would "feel upset by this decision".

She added: "And of course for balance there will be some who, how can I put this, will cope with the news just fine, such is the beauty of democracy.

"But 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."

Scotland's longest-serving and first female first minister

Ms Sturgeon will leave office as the longest-serving and first female first minister since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

She joined the Scottish National Party at the age of 16 and rose through the ranks to take top billing after Alex Salmond stood down after the defeat in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and was voted in as first minister days later.

Her historic leadership oversaw a challenging health crisis as she announced a string of restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus.

But she is standing down from the top post without realising her key political ambition ― securing Scottish independence.

The First Minister said her party was "firmly on course to win the next election, while our opponents remain adrift". But there needed to be a new SNP leader to make the argument for going it alone, recognising she was a polarising figure.

She added: "The longer any leader is in office, the more opinions about them become fixed and very hard to change, and that matters.

"Individual polls come and go, but I am firmly of the view that there is now majority support for independence in Scotland.

"But that support needs to be solidified and it needs to grow further if our independent Scotland is to have the best possible foundation.

"To achieve that, we must reach across the divide in Scottish politics and my judgment now is that a new leader would be better able to do this.

"Someone about whom the mind of almost everyone in the country is not already made up, for better or worse. Someone who is not subject to quite the same polarised opinions, fair or unfair, as I now am."

Her leadership has been dented in recent weeks after a damaging battle over transgender rights, in which the UK government blocked Scottish legislation for the first time.

The country's gender recognition reforms proposed to allow transgender people to obtain a gender recognition certificate without the need for a medical diagnosis.

The bill would also allow 16 and 17-year-olds to apply for a GRC for the first time, and reduce the amount of time a person has to live in their acquired gender before they can be granted the document.

But UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK government would block the bill, which was the first time it had invoked the power to veto a Scottish law, because it would have a broader effect on the United Kingdom.

She had vowed to take the British government to court over the decision and argued that the government was making a “profound mistake” by vetoing the bill.

Seventy-six per cent of voters in Scotland said they thought the Scottish government's plans to change the law on gender recognition would pose a safety risk in women-only spaces, such as changing rooms, hospital wards and prisons.

Just under a quarter, 24 per cent, disagreed.

And more than four in 10 voters said they believed she should step down immediately amid the row.

Ms Sturgeon recently came under pressure after it was revealed transgender woman Isla Bryson, who committed two rapes while living as a man, was being initially assessed in Cornton Vale, a women-only prison.

Bryson was moved to a male prison days later, and Ms Sturgeon said “a rapist should not be in a woman’s prison”.

But the fallout has continued.

In a further headache for the First Minister, in November the UK's highest court ruled that the Scottish government could not force a second referendum on independence without Westminster's consent.

Ms Sturgeon had hoped to hold another poll in October on the question of whether the country should break away from the UK.

The Scottish public rejected the prospect of independence in 2014 by a margin of 55 per cent to 45 per cent.

Polls suggest Scots are about evenly split on independence — and a majority of voters do not want a new referendum any time soon.


Alison Thewliss, the SNP MP for Glasgow Central and the party's home affairs spokeswoman, said she was gutted at the news of Ms Sturgeon's departure.

She tweeted: "Absolutely gutted about this. Nicola has been an incredible leader."

The SNP's Stewart McDonald, MP for Glasgow South, on Twitter said: "Nicola Sturgeon is the finest public servant of the devolution age," sharing a photograph of himself with Ms Sturgeon.

"Her public service, personal resilience and commitment to Scotland is unmatched, and she has served our party unlike anyone else. She will be an enormous loss as First Minister and SNP leader. Thank you!"

SNP president Michael Russell also paid tribute, thanking Ms Sturgeon for her "extraordinary and brilliant leadership" after she announced her resignation as Scottish First Minister.

"As president [of the SNP] I thank [Ms Sturgeon] for her extraordinary and brilliant leadership of her party and country," he tweeted.

"As a friend for 30 years I wish her all the best and look forward to her continuing huge contribution to our national wellbeing and success."

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak thanked Ms Sturgeon for her "long-standing service".

He tweeted: "I wish her all the best for her next steps. We will continue to work closely with the @scotgov on our joint efforts to deliver for people across Scotland."

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer said Ms Sturgeon had been at the forefront of not just Scottish but UK politics for more than two decades.

Ireland's premier Leo Varadkar hailed her as a "true European".

The Taoiseach said: "I pay tribute to Nicola Sturgeon following her decision to stand down as First Minister of Scotland.

"I had the pleasure to work with Nicola through the British Irish Council and met her on a number of occasions.

"I also welcomed her to government buildings in Ireland during my first tenure as Taoiseach.

"I always found Nicola a very warm person, articulate and thoughtful, and a very capable politician, who showed huge commitment to her country. She was also a true European."

Updated: February 15, 2023, 4:10 PM