June 20. 2024. 2:31

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Nicola Sturgeon stuns UK politics with surprise resignation

The Scottish National Party is preparing for its first leadership election in almost two decades, after Nicola Sturgeon stunned British politics by announcing her intention to resign as party leader and Scotland’s first minister on Wednesday.

Ms Sturgeon, the dominant force in Scottish politics since taking over as first minister more than eight years ago, says she will stay on until her successor is chosen. Ms Sturgeon has asked the SNP’s national secretary begin the process to replace her. The party says it expects a “shortened” election compared to past lengthy battles, but it is still expected to take up to six weeks.

As Ms Sturgeon has no heir apparent, a leadership contest is certain to be held. The outgoing first minister ran unopposed in 2014 to replace her predecessor, Alex Salmond, who beat John Swinney in the last SNP leadership contest in 2014. Early contenders to replace Ms Sturgeon include the party’s constitution secretary, Angus Robertson, and Kate Forbes, its finance secretary.

Ms Sturgeon’s decision to step down, weeks after claiming she had “plenty left in the tank”, dominated British politics on Wednesday. Leaders of the two main Westminster parties, Labour’s Keir Starmer and Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak, were among the first to wish her well. Scottish Tories, however, accused her of “throwing in the towel” to escape political problems.

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Nicola Sturgeon stuns UK politics with surprise resignation

Nicola Sturgeon stuns UK politics with surprise resignation

Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation triggers speculation as to replacement

Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation triggers speculation as to replacement

[ ‘Nicola Sturgeon was a friend of Ireland’: Departing Scottish first minister praised by Irish politicians ]

[ Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation triggers speculation as to replacement ]

Ms Sturgeon denied that “short-term pressures”, such as a recent row over sending a transgender rapist to a women’s prison, played heavily in her decision. She hinted that leading Scotland through the pandemic had taken a “mental and physical toll” on her, which he had only recently realised.

She also acknowledged the opposition within her party to her plan to make the next UK general election a “de facto referendum” on Scottish independence. The SNP is due to hold a special conference on March 19th to reboot its strategy to seek independence for Scotland.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that she is to resign from her role, saying the "time is now." Video: Reuters

Ms Sturgeon said she was quitting now so that her views on the issue did not overly sway the decisions taken by SNP members at that conference, given that she knew “in her head and heart” that she would not be the one to lead the party in the next stage of its fight for independence.

“The longer any leader is in office, the more opinions about them become fixed and very hard to change. And that matters,” she said.

The announcement of her departure was greeted with good wishes from across the Irish political spectrum. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he found her to be “a very warm person, articulate and thoughtful” and someone who “showed huge commitment to her country”. He called her “a true European and a friend of Ireland”.

[ Keir Starmer is the big winner from Nicola Sturgeon’s departure ]

[ Nicola Sturgeon resigns as Scotland’s first minister after eight years ]

President Michael D Higgins said Ms Sturgeon’s contribution to public life as first minister “has been recognised in Scotland and abroad as a particularly distinguished one”. He said she “brought a freshness and enthusiasm to the tasks of representation and public service that was singular”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said Ms Sturgeon was “an outstanding leader and an outstanding advocate for the independence of her country”, while the party’s first minister designate for Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, said she had witnessed the outgoing Scottish leader’s “depth of dedication, commitment and energy”.

“I wish to pay tribute to the huge strides she has made in advancing the campaign for Scottish independence, the strong stance against Brexit and the undermining of devolution by the Tories in London,” said Ms O’Neill.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said Ms Sturgeon had “demonstrated strong leadership rooted in her vision for Scotland” and that he looked forward to working with her successor.