Sturgeon’s resignation: this changes everything

Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation today will have ramifications across the UK – both in terms of the constitution and future elections.

Her term in office has been a tumultuous one. She picked up the mantle from Alex Salmond in the aftermath of the independence referendum defeat, and quickly set about making the case for how another referendum could happen and, more importantly, how she – and the SNP – could win it.

During the pandemic, Sturgeon came to dominate the agenda and was often contrasted for her clear presentation and commitment to Scottish policy against Boris Johnson’s confused and beleaguered pandemic response. This allowed her to develop her profile and quietly cement her position as being not just a Scottish political figure, but a leading UK one.

But, because she’s resigned, many will see her leadership as being unsuccessful; a referendum still feels an abstract cause as Westminster-based parties refuse any clear route, and the legal paths being pursued haven’t resulted in anything. Yet the polling remains high and often ahead for the SNP’s cause.

In recent times, Sturgeon has seen contemporary decisions lead to a falling away of support for independence. Her management of the highest number of drug deaths in Europe, procurement of ferries, and the furore over the gender recognition bill has led to the fiercest scrutiny of her and her judgement. She claims that her decision to resign was about more than any one issue, but it’s clear that combined policy decisions and the backlash against them have taken their toll.

What the SNP now does and who they replace her with could become significant in deciding a series of UK-wide outcomes.

The first is whether the SNP continues to dominate the Scottish political landscape. For Keir Starmer to become Prime Minister in 2024, he will need to win back seats in Scotland, and the lack of a charismatic and well known SNP leader is likely to be seen by Labour as a welcome window of opportunity to rebuild its presence north of the border.

The second is her successor. By definition, they’re going to be less well known, and therefore a risk. The front runners vary from experienced hands with baggage – John Swinney and Angus Robertson – to younger figures still to be tested – Kate Forbes being the most obvious.

The SNP’s assertion that the next General Election should be seen as a de-facto referendum on independence will rest heavily on the personality and impact of the party’s next leader.

The framing of that issue, and whether Labour grasps the opportunity in the next 18 months to break over a decade of political dominance by the SNP, will have a big impact on the political landscape on both sides of the border.

Make no mistake: this isn’t just big news in Scottish politics; this changes everything.