Nicola Sturgeon has announced she is to resign as Scotland’s first minister after more than eight years in the role.
Speaking at a hastily-arranged news conference in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said she knows the “time is now” for her to stand down, adding that the decision is “right for me, for my party and for the country”.
She will leave office as the longest-serving and first female first minister since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.
The 52-year-old’s historic career will be remembered for the – so far unsuccessful – fight for Scottish independence.
Sturgeon announces shock departure – politics latest
Born in Irvine in 1970, she joined the Scottish National Party at the age of 16 and has been campaigning for Scottish independence ever since.
But she will stand down from the top post without realising this key political ambition.
Ms Sturgeon rose through the ranks to take top billing after former leader of the SNP Alex Salmond stood down following the defeat in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and was voted in as first minister days later.
Her time in office also saw her leading the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Electorally she enjoyed enormous success, leading the SNP to repeated election victories at Scottish and local level, with her party consistently the largest in Scotland in UK polls, too.
Even recently, the SNP’s dominance in Scottish polls has not been seriously dented.
But Ms Sturgeon’s government has faced growing criticism in recent years as the NHS in Scotland fails to recover from the impact of the pandemic, with soaring waiting times in emergency departments.
As members of the SNP praised their “outstanding” outgoing leader as “the finest public servant of the devolution age”, here is a look back at the most memorable moments of her tenure as Scotland’s first minister.
The fight for independence
Ms Sturgeon became the leader of the ruling SNP in Scotland in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum when the country had voted 55% to 45% to remain as part of the United Kingdom.
Her main political ambition throughout almost a decade at the helm was to lead Scotland successfully to independence.
But last year the Supreme Court ruled that Holyrood could not lawfully legislate on the constitutional issue without the approval of the UK Parliament.
Successive Conservative governments in London have said the 2014 referendum was a once-in-a-generation decision and could not be repeated so soon.
Following the ruling, Ms Sturgeon vowed to “never give up on democracy” and to step up efforts to secure independence for her country.
The recent controversies which piled pressure on Sturgeon
The SNP is due to meet next month to discuss treating the next UK election – which must be held before January 2025 – as a “de facto referendum”.
According to polls, support for independence rose above 50% in the wake of the Supreme Court defeat but has since slipped back.
In her resignation speech, Ms Sturgeon said she believes independence is “a cause that is being won” and that she intends to remain part of the campaign at “every step of the way”.
Bruising Brexit battles
The people of Scotland voted decisively to remain within the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum and the campaign to remain within the EU is another issue that has dominated Ms Sturgeon’s tenure.
It had been her long-standing view since before the referendum took place that Scotland would be worse off outside the EU.
Scottish ministers under Ms Sturgeon’s leadership have repeatedly clashed with the UK government after alleging that their UK counterparts failed to engage meaningfully with the Scottish government on Brexit since Article 50 was triggered in March 2017.
Ms Sturgeon also accused then-prime minister Boris Johnson of taking the UK on an “almost inevitable path to a no-deal Brexit”.
Last year, outlining her plan to secure independence for Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said her country “has paid a price for not being independent”.
Brexit has caused problems for the fishing industry in Scotland, which previously relied on exporting produce to the EU.
“The Conservatives have just six MPs in Scotland – barely 10 per cent of Scottish representation – and yet they have ripped us out of the EU against our will,” she said.
If Ms Sturgeon were to have secured a second independence referendum and been successful in the vote, it was strongly suggested that the country would have sought to re-join the EU.
Salmond souring and ‘cesspit of vipers’
But Ms Sturgeon’s time in office as first minister also saw bitter infighting within her party, as well as the rows with UK government ministers.
A dramatic rupture between the party’s two towering figures – Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond – called into question how unified the SNP really was.
Once close allies, the pair became sworn enemies over the fall-out from sexual harassment claims against former first minister Mr Salmond.
Mr Salmond, who was cleared of sexual assault charges in 2020, claimed senior SNP figures around Ms Sturgeon mounted a “malicious and concerted” attempt to bring him down.
He alleged her husband Peter Murrell and her chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, were among those behind attempts to “destroy” his reputation.
Ms Sturgeon accused her former boss Mr Salmond of throwing around accusations “without a shred of evidence” and challenged him to “replace the insinuation and assertion” with hard facts.
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One Tory MSP on the Holyrood committee which examined the handling of harassment claims described Scotland’s party of government as a “cesspit of vipers”.
A Holyrood committee concluded Ms Sturgeon misled its investigation into the handling of sexual misconduct claims against her predecessor.
The first minister said she stood by her evidence and described the leaked conclusions of the report as “very partisan”.
Following the row, Mr Salmond subsequently launched his new pro-independence party, the Alba Party.
Two Members of Parliament in the House of Commons defected from the SNP to the Alba Party on 27 March 2021 but no Alba candidates have been elected as MPs at any election as of yet.
Ms Sturgeon’s leadership will also be remembered for navigating the pandemic.
Scotland’s restrictions were often tougher than those in England to try to better control the spread of the virus.
Critics have debated whether Ms Sturgeon’s relatively cautious approach to coronavirus policy had the desired effect on public health.
Ms Sturgeon was accused of “needlessly damaging the economy” by imposing COVID-19 curbs on hospitality and sports as Omicron cases surged in December 2021.
Then-UK prime minister Boris Johnson re-imposed requirements for the use of face masks in England in early December but stopped short of matching more restrictive measures in Scotland.
And official data showed per capita deaths where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate reached higher levels in Scotland than England in January.
But experts have cautioned that it is difficult to compare the effect of policies on the course of the pandemic even between two nations as closely socially and economically matched as Scotland and England.
Ms Sturgeon has dismissed criticism that she overreacted to the Omicron wave.
The pandemic has created a huge lingering load on Scotland’s hospitals which, in the last few months, Ms Sturgeon has been under pressure to reduce.
Gender law reform row
In recent weeks, legislation from her government which pushed through controversial gender reforms has taken centre stage in Ms Sturgeon’s long political career.
The UK Government blocked the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Act which made it easier to self-identify as a chosen gender.
And the housing of transgender prisoners in the female estate exacerbated the issue.
Announcing her resignation, and referring to ongoing divisions in her party about transgender rights, Ms Sturgeon told reporters: “This decision is not a reaction to short-term pressures.”
Ms Sturgeon’s Scottish government came under fire last month after transgender double rapist Isla Bryson was housed in an all-female prison before being moved to the male estate.
The 31-year-old had been found guilty of attacking two women while a man and was initially housed in Cornton Vale near Stirling.
Following public backlash, Scotland’s Justice Secretary Keith Brown ordered an urgent case review into the management of transgender prisoners.
It will likely now fall to the next first minister to find a solution to the ongoing row.
And independence will no doubt continue to dominate the SNP’s agenda.
After so long at the helm, don’t expect Ms Sturgeon to fade away quietly into the background.
For one thing, her departure is not immediate – she has said she will remain in office until her successor is elected.
And should there be another chance for the Scottish people to have their say on independence again in the future, her voice will be one of the loudest and most influential.