On 15 February, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation, saying the job “takes its toll on you and all around you”. Sturgeon is the longest-serving First Minister, as well as the first woman elected to the role.
Sturgeon called her position as first minister of Scotland “the very best job in the world” and one that has “sustained and inspired me in good times and in the toughest hours of my toughest days”. In her announcement she stated: “In my head and in my heart, I know that time is now, that it is right for me and my party and for the country.”
Sturgeon stated that her resignation was not due to “short-term pressures” – seemingly a reference to ongoing divisions in the Scottish National Party (SNP) about the rights of transgender people. Sturgeon added: “To those who do feel shocked or disappointed, or perhaps even a bit angry with me, please… be in no doubt that this is really hard for me.”
“My decision comes from a place of duty and of love. Tough love, perhaps, but love nevertheless for my party and above all for the country.”
🏴 To all the people of Scotland – whether you voted for me or not – please know that being your First Minister has been the privilege of my life.
Nothing – absolutely nothing – I do in future will ever come close.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. https://t.co/ZbmmkzyHwK
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) February 15, 2023
Gender reform in Scotland
Despite recently passing legislation in Holyrood which would have meant people could legally change their gender in Scotland without a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, the bill was then blocked by Westminster, with ministers in London claiming it would have a “significant impact” on equalities nationwide.
Sturgeon stated: “I will always be a voice for inclusion, for equality, for human rights and dignity and I have been, and will always be, a feminist”.
“I will fight for women’s rights and I will stand up against threats to women’s rights every day that I have breath in my body”.
“But I’ll also stand up for any stigmatised, discriminated against, marginalised, vulnerable group in society”.
“And I believe these things can and must, in any progressive, liberal, inclusive society, find ways of co-existing and whatever role I play in politics in the future, I will always seek to do everything I can to turn that into a reality.”
Who will replace Sturgeon as SNP Leader and Scotland’s First Minister?
The SNP will announce the process for electing a new leader over the coming days but the party has refused to say who Sturgeon’s preferred candidate would be.
She will remain in post until somebody else takes over and will remain a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) until at least the next Holyrood elections.
Three candidates have now entered the race to replace Sturgeon as SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister. Humza Yousaf, the SNP health secretary, entered the contest and is widely seen as a continuity candidate.
Ash Regan, a backbench MSP, is seen as an outsider, having quit her frontbench role to vote against plans to reform the law on gender recognition. Regan resigned as a community safety minister over Sturgeon’s proposed gender law, which would allow 16-year-olds to self-identify without needing a medical certificate.
Regan received backlash from some women’s organisations and the LGBTQI+ community recently after telling The Sunday Times: “Women’s rights will never be compromised with me.” She has since stated that, if elected, she would seek to reverse the reforms.
Regan also suggested she could change the rules around trans prisoners after the Isla Bryson case was used as a central argument by those who oppose the reforms.
On Monday, Kate Forbes, finance secretary, announced her candidacy. Forbes has also faced backlash after stating that she would have voted against gay marriage in 2014 if she had been an MSP at the time.
Forbes stated that she would have opposed it as “a matter of conscience”. Forbes, who has been described as a devout Christian, later confirmed that, despite her views on marriage, she is not ‘a dictator’ and would respect public opinion and democracy.
Forbes clarified: “I would vote in accordance with mainstream Christian teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman. But equal marriage is a legal right and I am a servant of democracy not a dictator and would respect and defend that democratic choice.”
She continued: “If we are saying that high public office is barred to people of faith, or only to people with the right kind of faith, or with socially accepted faith, we are moving into very dangerous days.”
Yousaf distanced himself from Forbes’s position, stating that he backed same-sex marriage and would “always fight for the equal rights of others”.
Yousaf told LBC: “I’m a supporter of equal marriage… I’m a Muslim. I’m somebody who’s proud of my faith. But what I don’t do is, I don’t use my faith as a basis of legislation.”
People we won’t see in the race
Several prominent figures have ruled themselves out of the race, despite being popular within the SNP. Those who will not be running include:
- SNP Deputy Leader, Keith Brown
- Deputy First Minister, John Swinney
- SNP Westminster Leader, Stephen Flynn
- Ukraine Minister, Neil Gray
- Environment Minister, Mairi McAllan
- Scottish Constitution Secretary, Angus Robertson.