Nicola Sturgeon came in in a blaze of glory and pizzazz in 2014 and today announces her departure plans amid confusion over where her party goes next.
When Alex Salmond called the press to Bute House in September 2014 to announce he was stepping down as First Minister and SNP leader, there was only one clear successor. Up stepped his long time deputy Nicola Sturgeon. It was a coronation, she was unopposed and started with a tour packing out some of Scotland’s biggest concert venues a bit like a rock star.
There followed the SNP’s landslide victory in the Westminster election, winning all but three seats. Since then she has led an electoral machine sweeping aside all comers, it is a phenomenal record. She led Scotland through the pandemic with trust and authority which helped secure another big Holyrood election win in 2021, although one seat short of a majority.
She is the longest serving First Minister, and arguably, with that Covid crisis has had the hardest shift, but just a few weeks ago she assured everyone she had plenty left in the tank.
So why has her tank suddenly run dry? I’ve spoken to a couple of cabinet ministers this morning who had no idea this was coming, just like the rest of us. They had expected her to be a bit down at last week’s cabinet but said she seemed as positive as ever. Things have not been going in her direction in the last few months. The Gender Recognition Reform Bill has been one of the toughest battles of her time in office and is far from over and seems to have hit Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s poll ratings.
In 2014 she was the obvious successor, now there is no such obvious replacement. Few political leaders go on their own terms, despite falling poll ratings, policy problems and even a police probe into party finances, this is probably about as close to it as we’ve seen in UK politics for some time.