UK dispatch: Nicola Sturgeon resigns as Scotland First Minister, setting back independence movement Dispatches
© Scottish Government
UK dispatch: Nicola Sturgeon resigns as Scotland First Minister, setting back independence movement

James Joseph is a UK staff correspondent for JURIST.

Leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) Nicola Sturgeon resigned in a press conference at her official residence at 11AM UK time. Nicola Sturgeon is the first female First Minister and the first woman to lead any of the devolved UK administrations.

Her resignation marks a major moment in Scottish politics as well as in UK politics. Nicola Sturgeon has been involved in Scottish nationalist politics all of her life, taking over from Alex Salmond after the independence referendum back in 2014 after he fought criminal sexual assault allegations which he was later cleared of. More recently she tried to get the UK Supreme Court to rule that another independence referendum could be possible. When they ruled against her in October last year she insisted that “Scottish democracy will not be denied.”. She has been a hugely popular leader amongst the electorate. Her departure will also be a huge moment for the Union and for British and European politics. The SNP currently have 48 seats in Westminster. Her departure may provide opportunity for Labour to take some SNP seats.

Sturgeon stated in her speech that “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.” She said the decision was “not a reaction to short-term pressures”, adding that “These jobs are a privilege, but they are also really hard, and especially in the case of First Minister, relentlessly so.”

The outgoing First Minister also reflected on the impact her role had had on her physical and mental health in terms reminiscent of remarks made by former New Zealand Prime Jacinda Arden when she resigned from her position in January:

leading [Scotland] through the COVID pandemic is by far the toughest thing I’ve done. It may well be the toughest thing I ever do. I certainly hope so. Now by no stretch of the imagination was my job the hardest in the country during that time. The weight of responsibility was immense. It is only very recently I think that I started to comprehend, let alone process the physical and mental impact of it on me. So what I’m really seeing is this. If the only question was can I battle on for another few months, then the answer is yes, of course I can. 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.

After eight years as First Minister of Scotland this marks a huge moment for Scottish politics and the devolved administration. It is equally a big moment for the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon had looked unassailable in terms of her popularity in Scotland. There’s been a little question about her staying on at the helm, but now she will be standing down and triggering a leadership contest for who leads the SNP and the Scottish government into the future.

Undoubtedly, she’s had a difficult time over the past few months of her decision to bring in a law relating to gender identification, in which the Scottish Government would issue a certificate that legally recognises that a person’s gender is not the gender that they were assigned at birth, but is their “acquired gender”, another issue which put her on a collision course with Westminster and the UK Government. This led to the Westminster Government blocking her gender forms bill on an issue over which it seemed the Scottish public did not necessarily agree with her. Scotland has lately also seen a wave of industrial action with teachers and NHS workers in Scotland on strike, as they have been in the rest of the country.