Home News Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon, flag-bearer for independence, to resign

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon, flag-bearer for independence, to resign


LONDON — Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of Scotland and leading advocate for its independence, announced her surprise resignation on Wednesday, saying she no longer felt she could give the job her all and worried about her role as a polarizing figure in the country.

“I believe that part of serving well would be to know, almost instinctively, when the time is right to make way for someone else,” she said. “In my head and in my heart, I know that time is now.”

A thorn in the side of successive British prime ministers, Sturgeon won international praise for her handling of the pandemic and helped make Scotland a global leader on climate — even as she failed to make progress on her animating cause: independence.

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She said she will stay in place until a new leader is chosen and afterward would serve as a backbench lawmaker in the Scottish parliament.

Sturgeon said that while she was convinced that her Scottish National Party would dominate the next election, she felt that she herself could no longer give the job “absolutely everything,” which is the “only way to do it.”

She also cited a political environment of greater intensity, “dare I say brutality,” that has taken its toll on her and those around her.

Her remarks were intensely personal — and not very political. She took no parting shots and burned no bridges. She has recently faced head winds, but no career-ending scandal.

While Sturgeon said that her decision was not a “reaction to short-term pressures,” she has had a particularly rough few weeks with the commentariat, even those who are pro-independence, having turned quite critical.

Sturgeon’s party has been in turmoil over Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which was halted by the British government, and it has also been fighting over the direction of the independence debate. Sturgeon has said that the next Britain-wide general election, to be held no later than January 2025, should serve as a “de facto referendum” on independence.

Sturgeon’s resignation remarks were similar to those made by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, 42, who resigned last month saying, “I have given my absolute all. I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”

Asked how Sturgeon went from telling BBC she had “plenty in the tank” just three weeks ago to announcing her departure, Sturgeon said “I’m a human being. Everyone human being every day wrestles with a whole lot of conflicting emotions.”

She said that since the new year, she has been struggling with the decision. She said she could go on for “I dunno, six months, a year maybe” but “I know that as time passed, I would have less and less energy to give to the job.”

The 53-year-old Scottish leader has been in politics since she was a 16-year-old SNP activist and as she stood at the lectern at Bute House, the first minister’s official residence in Edinburgh, she said she wanted to “spend a little more time on Nicola Sturgeon the person.” After more than eight years on the job, she is the country’s longest-serving first minister.

Sturgeon has tangled over the years with a string a British prime ministers, most notably Boris Johnson, over issues of self-government. She maintains that Scots live by decisions made in faraway London by lawmakers and bureaucrats.

She became first minister in November 2014, when she took over from her mentor, former SNP leader Alex Salmond, following the independence referendum.

The nationalists lost that referendum, in which voters were asked plainly: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” The answer: 55 percent said no, and 45 percent said yes.

Sturgeon pressed Johnson to allow Scotland to stage another referendum, but Johnson insisted that the 2014 ballot was a “once in a generation” vote.

Admitting that she has since become a divisive figure, Sturgeon on Wednesday suggested her departure could help the independence movement.

“Individual polls come and go. But I am firmly of the view that there is now majority support for independence. But that support needs to be solidified — and it needs to grow further if our independent Scotland is to have the best possible foundation.”

Sturgeon said the next leader “must to reach across the divide in Scottish politics, and my judgment now is that a new leader would be better able to do this. Someone about whom the mind of almost everyone in the country is not already made up, for better or use, someone who is not subject to the same polarized opinions, fair or unfair, as I now am.”

Fervor for independence has remained mostly flat.

One recent poll showed that 44 percent are in favor of Scottish independence compared to 56 percent who are not — pretty much the same place as where public opinion was during the 2014 referendum when Scots voted 45- 55 to stay in the United Kingdom.

Support for independence has fluctuated during Sturgeon’s tenure — a majority backed the idea during the pandemic when many in Scotland thought Sturgeon did a better job of handling the crisis than the British government did. But it has since fallen back down.

Paul Schemm contributed to this report.