Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation triggers speculation as to replacement

Dominant force of Scottish politics stuns UK by announcing her departure as first minister and leader of SNP

Scotland’s finance secretary, Kate Forbes, and its constitution secretary, Angus Robertson, have emerged as early contenders to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, who shocked UK politics on Wednesday by announcing she intended to quit as first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Mr Robertson, a senior party power broker for more than two decades, was installed as the early favourite by some bookmakers, while Ms Forbes, who is due to return from maternity leave shortly, is also widely expected to put her name forward.

Ms Sturgeon will stay on until her successor is chosen. Stephen Flynn, the party’s leader in the UK parliament at Westminster, ruled himself out of the running. He cited the need for the SNP leader to be first minister of Scotland, a position that can only be held by a member of its devolved parliament.

As she announced her decision at the first minister’s official residence, Bute House, Ms Sturgeon denied that “short-term pressures” played any role in her decision to quit. This was widely seen as a reference to the significant media pressure she was under in recent weeks over the handling of the case of Isla Bryson, a transwoman and convicted rapist who was originally sent to a women’s prison.


Ms Sturgeon said she was perfectly able to navigate such “choppy waters… I have plenty of experience to draw on.”

In a lengthy resignation speech, she said part of “serving well” in the role of first minister was knowing when the right time would be to step down. “In my head and in my heart, I know that time is now,” she said. Ms Sturgeon told BBC she was “nowhere near” stepping down in an interview less than four weeks ago.

She told SNP members who may be “upset or angry” at her decision that it came from “a place of duty and love, tough love”. She revealed she had been “wrestling with it for several weeks”.

Ms Sturgeon has served as first minister for more than eight years, and was deputy first minister for almost eight years before that. She said the “intensity and brutality” of politics had taken a “mental and physical” toll on her: “I am a human being as well as a politician.”

She also hinted that in making her decision to go, she was cognisant of significant opposition within the SNP to her wish to make the general election expected next year a “quasi referendum” on independence. Opponents questioned the political rationale behind this, when issues such as the cost of living would likely be high on voters’ list of priorities.

The leaders of the two main Westminster parties, Conservative party leader and prime minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer, both wished her well. Her close political ally and former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said she was the “finest first minister Scotland has ever seen”.

However, the Scottish Tory MSP Stephen Kerr criticised Ms Sturgeon on her departure, suggesting she realised she was in a “mess of her own making” due to a build-up of economic and other issues, and that she had decided to “throw in the towel”.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times