A time to quit: On Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation as First Minister of Scotland

Ms Sturgeon’s resignation is a setback for the independence movement 

February 17, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 12:34 pm IST

When Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, announced her resignation on Wednesday, comparisons were immediately drawn between her decision and that of Jacinda Ardern, the former New Zealand Prime Minister who quit last month citing burnout. “In my head and in my heart, I know that time is now,” said Scotland’s first woman and longest serving First Minister. The parallels actually run deeper. As with Ms Ardern, whose popularity was dipping in the face of policy setbacks, there were underlying reasons behind the Sturgeon exit as well. Ms Sturgeon rose to power in 2014 after Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) former leader quit following a defeat in a Scottish independence referendum (55% said No). The vote was seen as a setback to the SNP’s bid for independence, but Ms. Sturgeon revived the campaign after Britain’s European Union exit, arguing that most Scots wanted to stay in the EU. When the U.K. Supreme Court ruled last November that the Scottish Parliament did not have the power to call another referendum on independence without Westminster’s approval, she floated a proposal to use the next U.K. general election, due in 2025, as a de facto referendum — a victory for pro-independence parties would be seen as a ‘Yes’ vote, which triggered considerable opposition even within her own party. It may not be a coincidence that her decision to quit comes before a crucial SNP conference, which is expected to take a call on the proposal.

Independence was not her only major challenge. Her promise to expand transgender rights hit a wall after a convicted double rapist, a transwoman, was sent to a women’s prison. A Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament to make it easier for trans people as young as 16 to get government recognition for their acquired gender identity was blocked by the U.K. government, citing “safety issues for women and children”. Besides, there were growing concerns about the status of the health-care system (a nurses’ strike over pay and wariness over the waiting time for accident and emergency cases), an ongoing teachers strike (closing educational institutions) and a police investigation into a loan her husband, Peter Murrell, gave to the SNP. All this put Ms Sturgeon, otherwise a formidable leader, in a spot. Ever since Mr. Salmond quit in 2014, Ms Sturgeon has been the face of the independence campaign and her resignation is a setback for the same. Both Mr. Salmond and Ms Sturgeon failed to break the threshold on their most important cause. Her successor will have to rebuild the movement while also addressing more pressing economic and governance issues immediately.

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