In the wake of the First Minister’s announcement of her intention to stand down after eight years in office, the SNP has begun the process of finding Nicola Sturgeon’s replacement.
A shortlist of candidates from the party ranks is set to be drawn up by bosses before a decision is taken on a successor to the longest serving Scottish leader since devolution.
In her surprise resignation speech on Wednesday, the outgoing FM praised the “talent” within the SNP, adding she had “freed the party” to pursue the independence cause without her presence at the figurehead.
Sturgeon will remain in office until her successor is announced.
She said that the move was not a reaction to “short-term pressures,” but rather to allow the party the best opportunity to pursue independence “without worrying about the perceived implications for [her] leadership”.
The outgoing FM wants the SNP to fight the next general election as a de facto referendum, but there has been some opposition to that plan within the party.
Sturgeon declined to give an opinion on who she wanted to succeed her as SNP leader.
“What I do know is that the SNP is awash with talented individuals,” she said.
“What I’m looking forward to, and I think the country will enjoy over these next few weeks, is seeing that talent and seeing that array of talent.”
She added: “I believe I have led this country closer to independence, I believe we are in the final phase of that journey.
“I believe that my successor, whoever he or she may be, will lead Scotland to independence, and I’ll be there cheering him or her on every step of the way.”
The SNP is now in the process of selecting her successor and its national executive committee will meet soon to discuss a timetable for the leadership election.
Michael Russell, the party’s president, said he expected that process to be “shortened” and there to be a “contested election”.
But deputy first minister John Swinney, thought to be among the candidates for the top job, said there “will be plenty of time” to set out a succession plan.
Other potential candidates to succeed the outgoing First Minister include external affairs secretary Angus Robertson and secretary for finance and economy Kate Forbes.
The party’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, who took over from Ian Blackford last year, said there were plenty of potential First Ministers with the SNP ranks.
“There’s a number of my colleagues who would excel in the role,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to see who throws their hat in the ring and quizzing them on their vision for the party and for Scotland.”