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Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation as Scottish first minister in a surprise press conference in Edinburgh on Wednesday, saying her departure is not the result of short-term pressures.
She said serving in the role had been a “privilege beyond measure, one that has sustained and inspired me in the good times and through the toughest hours of my toughest days.”
“However, since my very first moments in the jobs, I have believed the part of serving well would be to know almost instinctively when the time is right to make way for some one else. In my head and in my heart, I know that time is now,” she said.
She added she would remain in office until her successor was elected.
“I’ve been trying to answer two questions – is carrying on right for me, and more importantly, is me carrying on right for the country, my party, and the independence cause I have devoted my life to,” Sturgeon said.
She added that serving as leader took its toll on an individual and those around them, and that leading the country through the pandemic had been the hardest thing she had ever done.
Sturgeon has been Scotland’s longest-serving first minister, acting in the position and as leader of the Scottish National Party since 2014. She is the first woman to hold the Scottish leadership post.
In recent months, she has faced criticism and praise over legislative reform led by the SNP, which would make it easier for people to change their legal gender and lower the age at which they can do so, from 18 to 16.
Sturgeon has come under pressure to clarify her stance on transgender women being jailed in women’s prisons, after safety concerns were raised over a case in Scotland.
Sturgeon was deputy leader of the SNP during the 2014 referendum, in which 55.3% of poll goers voted against Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom. She replaced Alex Salmond as party leader and became First Minster of Scotland, following the independence vote.
The SNP has held a majority in the Scottish parliament — known as Holyrood — since 2011.
Sturgeon has become a well-known figure in British politics, pushing for a second independence poll, after many Scots voted against the proposals of the Brexit vote of 2016. In November, the U.K.’s highest court ruled that any second Scottish independence vote would have to be approved by the U.K. government, which does not support the motion.
Under the U.K. policy of devolution, the Scottish parliament controls domestic issues including education, health, justice, housing and transport. It also set its own lockdown and border policies during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Stewart McDonald, a SNP member of parliament, said on Twitter, “Nicola Sturgeon is the finest public servant of the devolution age. Her public service, personal resilience and commitment to Scotland is unmatched, and she has served our party unlike anyone else. She will be an enormous loss as First Minister and SNP leader.”