NICOLA Sturgeon quit as Scotland’s First Minister today after admitting she had become a divisive figure holding back the SNP’s pursuit of independence.
Close to tears, she said she had become a barrier to breaking up the UK after eight years in power.
7An emotional Sturgeon announced her decision to resignCredit: PA7She made her resignation speech at a hastily arranged press conferenceCredit: PA7The decision comes amid controversial gender laws in ScotlandCredit: SWNSHer sudden departure shocked politicians across the divide in Westminster and Holyrood after she said weeks ago there was “plenty left in the tank”.
But one SNP official said: “Better to leave before the ship sinks and you’re pushed.”
Critics called her departure a “hammer blow” to the independence cause — and urged her successor to scrap the controversial gender laws which played a key role in her downfall.
Ms Sturgeon, 52, made her resignation speech at a hastily arranged press conference, telling the audience: “Now to be clear, I’m not expecting violins here.
“But I am a human being as well as a politician.”
She said of her decision to go: “In my head and in my heart, I know that time is now that it is right for me, for my party and for the country.”
Speaking at Bute House, Edinburgh, her official residence, she said fixed opinions about her were “barriers to debate” with independence viewed “through the prism of Nicola Sturgeon”.
She said support for the nationalist cause “needs to be solidified”.
Ms Sturgeon went on: “To achieve that, we must 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 worse.
“Someone who is not subject to quite the same polarised opinions, fair or unfair, as I now am.”
Ms Sturgeon said the public outcry over putting transgender double rapist Isla Bryson in a women’s jail was not the final straw in her decision to quit.
She also said leaving was not a reaction to “short-term pressures” after Westminster blocked her hoped-for gender reforms.
Her decision came as polling revealed 44 per cent support for separatism — less than that recorded at the 2014 vote in Scotland.
It also marked the biggest lead for the No campaign since June 2017.
Only one in five Scottish voters backed her plan to treat the general election as a de facto referendum on independence.
Her bid for nationalism also suffered a major blow when the Supreme Court ruled she could not hold a legally binding vote without Parliament’s permission.
5 REASONS SHE HAD TO QUIT
INDYREF WOES: Latest polling put Yes to independence at 44 per cent, with No at 56 per cent — its biggest lead since 2017.
FAILING PUBLIC SERVICES: Ms Sturgeon has failed to eliminate the poverty-related attainment gap in schools, or cut NHS wait times. And she is under fire over drug death levels.
GENDER RECOGNITION REFORM BILL: Blocked by Westminster. Rapist Adam Graham’s detention in a female jail after he identified as Isla Bryson sparked a big backlash.
LOAN ROW: Ms Sturgeon said she could not recall when she first learned about hubby Peter Murrell’s £107,000 loan to the SNP.
POLICE PROBE: Police Scotland is investigating what happened to an estimated £600,000 raised by party activists to be ring-fenced for Indyref 2. The SNP has denied any wrongdoing. Ms Sturgeon has refused to say if she expects to be questioned by cops.
PM Rishi Sunak refused to say if he thought Ms Sturgeon’s decision to quit was a blow for the independence cause, but commented that the pair “didn’t agree on everything”.
Cabinet Minister Alister Jack said her resignation presented a “welcome opportunity for the Scottish government to change course, and to drop its divisive obsession with independence”.
Tory MP Kevin Foster said: “Her departure is clearly a hammer blow to the cause of separatism and the movement is clearly losing ground.”
Labour shadow ministers were said to be cock-a-hoop as they believe her departure will clear the way for them to win a dozen seats at the election.
One Labour MP said: “It’s game on.”
Many commentators said the backlash over Ms Sturgeon’s gender self-ID law and its knock-on effect for independence support had seen her off.
Of her Gender Recognition Reform bill, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said: “I hope her successor will address the concerns now so vividly apparent with the GRR bill.”
Ms Sturgeon refused to comment on whether she had been questioned by police, or expected to be, over an alleged fraud within her party focused on £600,000 of missing cash from an online crowd-funder for a second independence vote.
The police declined to comment.
She also faced questions over her husband Peter Murrell’s £107,000 loan to the SNP.
7Sturgeon became Deputy First Minister when the SNP formed a minority government in 2007Credit: PA7Sturgeon took the top job when Alex Salmond stood down following the failed 2014 independence voteCredit: PAMs Sturgeon joined the SNP at 16, saying former PM Margaret Thatcher inspired in her a “strong feeling Scotland should not be governed by a Tory government that we hadn’t elected”.
She was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and, when the SNP formed a minority government in 2007, became Deputy First Minister, later taking the top job when Alex Salmond stood down following the 2014 independence vote defeat.
She fell out with Mr Salmond after he faced sexual harassment allegations.
He was acquitted, and the Scottish government paid £500,000 towards his legal fees over its handling of the complaints.
Mr Salmond claimed senior SNP figures had tried to sabotage his career, which Ms Sturgeon denied.
Earlier today, he said she was a “first-rate communicator” but her campaign for independence had “no clear strategy”.
Ms Sturgeon’s domestic record has been dogged by the NHS’s struggles in the aftermath of the pandemic, with rocketing waiting times in emergency departments.
She faced major criticism over failing to close the widening gap between the richest and poorest pupils on areas including reading, writing and numeracy.
Ms Sturgeon will be First Minister until a successor is announced and will be a Scottish Parliament backbencher until at least 2026.
Bookies have Angus Robertson and Kate Forbes as favourites to take over.
TORY JOY AT SNP WOE
By Harry Cole
CHAMPAGNE corks will be popping for the Tories and Labour as Nicola Sturgeon throws in the towel.
In the short term, It’s good news for the Government as support for Scottish independence plummets and its loudest advocate exits the stage.
The Tories’ “muscular unionism” and gamble when it came to overturning Sturgeon’s controversial gender bill has paid off.
However, long-term it’s Labour who might be happiest.
Sir Keir Starmer’s dream Westminster majority in 2024 requires a major resurgence for his party in Scotland.
There is a chance now for Labour to split anti-Tory sentiment there in a way they have struggled to do since the 2014 referendum.
But it’s far from clear if the next SNP leader will continue to push for an immediate IndyRef2.
Labour would much rather fight the SNP on its dismal domestic record on public services — not independence.
7Sturgeon faced questions over husband Peter Murrell’s SNP loanCredit: PA7Sturgeon masked for Covid in the Scottish Parliament in 2021Credit: Getty
Story Credit: thesun.co.uk