Nicola Sturgeon has been at the forefront of Scottish politics for over two decades and in her own words has been a “polarising figure” throughout that time. The longest-serving First Minister, Sturgeon’s resignation stunned Westminster and Holyrood today although comes at the culmination of a fortnight of relentless criticism over her policy on gender recognition.
Sturgeon told journalists and aides that gathered at her residence, Bute House, that she had been wrestling with the question of remaining in office for a few weeks despite telling Laura Kuenssberg only at the end of January that she still had “plenty in the tank.”
The single most prominent issue dominating her time in power has been the question over Scottish Independence and her tenure as First Minister largely focused on securing a second referendum on the subject. Her shock resignation leaves big questions over the future credibility of a second vote on independence as well as major concerns and opportunities for parties north and south of the border.
The movement for Scottish Independence, spearheaded by Sturgeon and the SNP suffered a setback last year when the Supreme Court ruled they could not unilaterally call a referendum without the permission of the UK Government and (at present) the Conservative Party. With this in mind, the independence debate remains firmly up in the air, an issue which defines the very existence of the party that Sturgeon has been a member of for her entire adult life.
In Westminster, Labour Party senior officials and Keir Starmer will be looking on intently as the party plots its path back to No.10. Following the vote to remain part of “A United Kingdom” in 2014, the Labour Party’s historical success in Scotland was all but obliterated, with the party losing all but one of the 41 MPs it had in Scotland. However, the confusion over future strategy and uncertainty on the leadership of the SNP has already been met with reaction from the Leader of the Opposition, with Keir Starmer saying “Labour stands ready to be the change that Scotland needs.”
At present, it is unclear on who will succeed Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister, with former House of Commons veteran, Angus Robertson and current Health and Social Care Secretary, Humza Yousaf as a couple of the frontrunners. This is only compounded by former First Minister Alex Salmond’s comments today that there is “no obvious successor” to Sturgeon.
Today may have been the “right time to go” for Nicola Sturgeon, however it remains to be seen whether it is the right time for the future electoral success of the party. Sturgeon’s successor and a clear and ambitious route to a referendum on independence will dictate the composition of both the Scottish Government and UK Government over the medium term. What is not ambiguous, however, is the influence of Nicola Sturgeon on British politics over the last ten years especially, and whether this was a jump before you’re pushed movement is likely to remain an aside in the history books.