Nicola Sturgeon, the figurehead of the faltering Scottish independence movement, dramatically announced on Wednesday that she would resign after eight years as Scotland’s first minister.
The Scottish National Party leader made the announcement at a press conference in Edinburgh. She will stay in office until a new SNP leader is appointed.
Sturgeon said she knows the “time is now” for her to stand down, adding that it is “right for me, for my party and for the country.”
“First, though I know it will be tempting to see it as such, this decision is not a reaction to short-term pressures,” said Sturgeon, who has been facing increasing tensions with the UK government in London over Scottish independence, as well as Westminster’s decision to block a Scottish law intended to allow trans people in Scotland to change their legal gender without a medical diagnosis.
“This decision comes from a deeper and longer term assessment.”
She added that she could no longer give her full energy to the job, and that she felt she must say so now. “I have been wrestling with it, albeit with oscillating levels of intensity for some weeks.
“Giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it.” She said it was difficult to have a private life, noting it was hard to “meet friends for a coffee or go for a walk on your own” and observed that there was a “brutality” to life at the top.
The shock announcement led to breathless speculation over Sturgeon’s timing, particularly as she had only recently pledged to make the next British general election a de-facto second referendum on Scottish independence.
While she stressed that she could no longer give her full energies to the job, her list of political headaches has grown. The SNP’s polling has dipped, making a dent in its grip on Scottish politics. The independence movement has stalled, with no real chance of a referendum on the cards any time soon.
She has lost support in her party since she attempted to introduce the controversial bill on gender identification, with some polls suggesting a majority of Scots supported the decision of the UK government to use its powers to block the proposal. And her husband was caught in a scandal at the end of last year, after it was reported he had personally loaned the SNP £100,000.
In short, having dominated Scottish politics for eight years, wielding the independence baseball bat and regularly using it to batter the UK government, Sturgeon might have decided to quit before her legacy is tarnished by failure.
The push for Scottish independence has run into a brick wall. There was once a time that it felt inevitable after Brexit. A majority of Scots voted to remain in the European Union and the SNP used Brexit as a wedge issue very successfully.
The problem for the SNP, as ever, is that the UK government must approve any decision to hold a referendum.
Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, four consecutive Conservative prime ministers, didn’t entertain the idea. It also seems very unlikely that Keir Starmer, the leader of the official opposition Labour Party, would give any boost to the idea, given that Labour needs to win seats in Scotland in order to win a UK parliamentary majority.
The SNP is due to have a special conference on independence next month. It is now likely it will go into that conference divided and without any certainty of its direction. All of which will make those opposed to independence very happy indeed.