Search to find Nicola Sturgeon’s successor begins

Search to find Nicola Sturgeon’s successor begins

Scotland's First Minister announced her surprise resignation on Wednesday morning

The search to find a successor for Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has begun following her surprise resignation.

Ms Sturgeon shocked Holyrood on Wednesday when she told a hastily arranged press conference she was to quit.

The SNP leader insisted recent political challenges, such as the UK Government’s decision to halt its gender recognition reforms, had not influenced the decision.

The SNP’s national executive committee is meeting online at 6.30pm on Thursday to discuss the timing for a leadership contest.

SNP president Michael Russell has said he expects that process to be “shortened” and for there to be a “contested election”.

Mr Russell went on to say – speaking to the BBC on Thursday – he thought the leadership race was an “important moment for the SNP”, urging members to discuss who the right candidate is “positively and constructively to decide who is the right person to take us forward”.

Though there is no obvious candidate to succeed the outgoing First Minister, potential candidates include: External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson; Finance Secretary Kate Forbes; Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

The party’s special conference next month to decide the way forward for a second independence referendum could now be postponed, SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn suggested.

Ms Sturgeon had planned to fight the next general election as a de facto referendum on Scottish independence but Mr Flynn said the new leader “should have the opportunity and indeed the space to set out their position, their values and their intentions going forward”.

He added: “I think it’s sensible that we do hit the pause button on that conference and allow the new leader the opportunity to set out their vision.”

The Westminster leader has previously ruled himself out of contention for the role, adding that the next head of the SNP will come from the Holyrood group.

Ms Sturgeon’s resignation follows a series of political challenges in recent months as her Government sought to push through gender reforms, only for them to be blocked by Westminster.

She insisted the row surrounding a transgender double rapist being sent to a women’s jail “wasn’t the final straw”, but said it is “time for someone else” to lead the party.

Ms Sturgeon acknowledged the “choppy waters”, but insisted her resignation was not in response to the “latest period of pressure”.

“This decision comes from a deeper and longer-term assessment,” the 52-year-old said.

“In my head and in my heart I know that time is now. That it’s right for me, for my party and my country,” she told reporters at Bute House, her official residence.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar suggested there was now a belief in Scotland that a UK Labour government was possible for the first time since the party lost power in 2010.

At the same time, he said it would require the party to make “significant gains” in Scotland at the next general election – expected in a little over 12 months – for that to happen.

“For 12 years I don’t think people in Scotland have believed that a Labour UK government was possible. I think that is changing now. I think people believe a UK Labour government is possible,” he told BBC.

The Scottish Tories, meanwhile, had no warm words for the departing First Minister, with the party leader Douglas Ross insisting Ms Sturgeon had “presided over a decade of division and decay in Scotland”.

Mr Ross also rubbished claims that Labour could win across Scotland at the next general election.

He told the BBC’s Newsnight: “Labour currently have one MP in the whole of Scotland, the Conservatives have six. We are the second biggest party at Holyrood, we are the second biggest Scottish party represented at Westminster.

“We are the the clear challengers to the SNP in multiple seats across Scotland.”

The Conservatives at Westminster tried to strike a more cordial tone, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak paying tribute to Ms Sturgeon’s “long-standing service”.

But his Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, said her resignation was “a welcome opportunity for the Scottish Government to change course, and to drop its divisive obsession with independence”.

The SNP’s vote share in opinion polls in Scotland has dipped in recent months, though the party remains ahead of its rivals across the board.

While the SNP enjoyed ratings in the high 40s or low 50s for much of the period after the December 2019 election and through the pandemic, in 2022 the figures started to drift downwards, briefly touching 42% in April and 41% in November.

This was mirrored by a rise in support for Labour, whose ratings had hovered around 20% for much of the previous two years, but which began to see an increase from early 2022.

The latest monthly average puts the SNP on 43%, Labour on 30%, the Conservatives on 16% and the Liberal Democrats on 6%.

At the 2019 general election, the SNP won 45% of the vote in Scotland, with the Tories on 25%, Labour on 19% and the Lib Dems on 10%.

Published: by Radio NewsHub
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