Will Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation lead to the downfall of the SNP or provide the party with a new lease of life?
By Sam Boyle, Junior Consultant
Yesterday, after eight years as Scotland’s First Minister and SNP party leader, Nicola Sturgeon resigned. Having spent the best part of a decade as the face of the SNP and of Scottish independence, this decision may come as a surprise to many, given Sturgeon’s comments just three weeks ago that she had plenty in the tank to see her through to her dream of an independent Scotland.
Sturgeon’s communication and reluctant campaigning skills have been admired and respected by those on both sides of the independence debate, particularly when compared to Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was also intrinsic to the SNP’s victory during the 2019 General Election, which saw them get 45% of the vote and 48 seats in Westminster.
However, Sturgeon’s announcement that the SNP would run on a ‘de facto referendum’ manifesto during the next General Election; the recent Gender Recognition Reform Bill which was passed in the Scottish Parliament; the current state of the NHS, the standard within the education system and the high level of drug deaths have dominated the headlines and debate both in Holyrood and Westminster. These recent developments, coupled with nearly a decade in power, have no doubt influenced Sturgeon’s decision to resign – perhaps before she was pushed into such a decision by her party.
There are no obvious candidates to take over, however Kate Forbes, current Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy of Scotland has been tipped as the bookie’s favourite. Forbes has been earmarked as a possible successor since her election to the Scottish Parliament in 2016, however until recently has shown little interest in leading her country and party. That being said, as she prepares to return from maternity leave, sources close to her have said she is “refreshed and ready for the challenges ahead.” Also likely to put themselves forward is Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who has also been covering Forbes’ maternity leave. Swinney has the most experience in government, after Sturgeon, and has briefly served as leader in the early 2000s.
Some may argue that Sturgeon’s resignation provides an exciting new start for the SNP. With no planned elections in Scotland for 2023, Sturgeon’s successor has the year to settle into the role and establish themselves as the country and party leader. However, it is also true that both the campaign for independence and the SNP’s position in Scotland could collapse without a strong leader at the helm.
Her resignation also provides an opportunity for the Labour party to regain some of their lost support north of the border. The Scottish Labour conference taking place in Edinburgh this weekend, at which Keir Starmer is due to make a speech, provides the perfect starting place. The Labour party currently only have one Scottish MP, having dominated politics in Scotland for the best part of 50 years both in local and national elections. The opportunity is there, it is up to the Labour party to embrace it and use it to their advantage.
Whether you are a unionist or pro Scottish independence, Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation changes the UK’s political landscape as a whole – if it changes the SNP’s position in Scotland remains to be seen.