Nicola Sturgeon stunned both Holyrood and Westminster with the shock announcement that she is standing down as SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister after eight years.
“In my head and in my heart I know that the time is now, that it’s right for me, for my party and my country,” she told a hastily-arranged press conference on Wednesday morning.
Ms Sturgeon, who has been under huge pressure over her particular approach to trans rights, said her decision to quit was not a “reaction to short-term pressures”.
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She also said her resignation now “frees the SNP” on the issue of Scottish independence to choose the path it believes to be the right one without worrying about “the perceived implications for my leadership”.
The SNP chief suggested that she had been “wrestling” with the decision as to whether to carry on for several weeks now, saying she had to consider the “physical and mental impact” of leading the country after being in charges since 2014.
Ms Sturgeon was reluctant to be drawn on particular events – but November’s Supreme Court ruling which decide that her government could not hold a second independence referendum without Westminster approval came as a major blow.
She was heavily criticised for initially vowing to turn the next general election into a de facto referendum on Scottish independence – with unionist parties accusing her of being completely “out of touch” with public opinion.
The SNP boss then disappointed many nationalists by dropping the firm pledge, instead putting various options to the party membership at a special conference this March.
Earlier this week, a poll found that two-thirds of Scottish voters are opposed to the idea of a general election being used as a facto vote on independence.
Ongoing uncertainty over the strategy for the independence movement had raised questions about whether Ms Sturgeon was the one to lead the SNP through the next phase of its fight for separation from the UK.
Having led the party throughout the aftermath of 2014 first referendum, put the push on hold for the Covid crisis and overseen the failed legal battle for a vote, it appears the first minister felt she had taken the cause as far as she was able.
Although she insisted that the trans self-identification row “wasn’t the final straw” which led to her exit, the huge controversy over her legislation, which would have made it easier for Scots to change gender, clearly took its toll.
Scotland’s first minister has been under huge pressure over the issue ever since Isla Bryson – convicted of raping two women while she was a man called Adam Graham – was initially sent to a women’s prison.
Ms Sturgeon was forced in a U-turn as she confirmed that the rapist would be moved to a male prison. But she stuck by her stance on self-ID and threatened legal action over the decision by the Rishi Sunak government to block the legislation passed at Holyrood.
Support for independence, the SNP and Ms Sturgeon all dropped sharply amid criticism over the “fiasco”. Former deputy leader of the party Jim Sillars said would be Ms Sturgeon’s equivalent of Margaret Thatcher’s disastrous “poll tax”.
But Ms Sturgeon has hinted for some time that she was considering a future beyond Scottish politics. She said she did not “fear” life after politics, talking about wanting to work with young people and write a memoir.
Ms Sturgeon said on Wednesday she was looking forward to spending more time with her family, and indicated she will continue on the backbenches as an MSP “until, certainly, the next election” for Holyrood, which is due in 2026.