Sturgeon's legacy: One year since shock resignation of longest-serving FM

Amid investigations and inquiries, Nicola Sturgeon's name remains at the forefront of the political landscape 12 months on.

A year on from her shock resignation as Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy has been put under the microscope.

The former first minister stunned colleagues and opponents on February 15 2023 as she announced she would stand down from the top job during a hastily-prepared press conference at Bute House, the first minister’s official residence in Edinburgh.

She was the country’s longest serving first minister and the first woman to hold the post.

But 12 months later, amid investigations and inquiries, Sturgeon’s name remains at the forefront of the political landscape.

In her resignation speech, Sturgeon said she believed the “time is now”, stating stepping aside was in the best interests of herself, the SNP and the country.

GLASGOW,SCOTLAND - JUNE 11: Media gather outside the home of former first minister Nicola Sturgeon who was arrested in connection with the ongoing investigation into the funding and finances of the SNP on June 11, 2023.Getty Images

No obvious successor initially emerged and a fiery leadership contest was the first time the public had seen signs of infighting and turmoil taking place behind the scenes.

The five-week contest eventually saw then health secretary Humza Yousaf selected to replace Sturgeon.

But his first week in charge was overshadowed just days later by action from the police investigation Operation Branchform into the spending of £600,000 of SNP finances.

Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, who resigned as SNP chief executive during the leadership contest, was arrested and questioned for about 12 hours before being released without charge pending further investigation.

The image of the blue tent erected by officers in the couple’s front garden in Glasgow was splashed over most national newspapers the following day.

Officers were seen searching a small garden shed and the party’s Edinburgh headquarters were also searched.

Sturgeon has also been questioned as part of the UK and Scotland Covid inquiries

The party’s former treasurer, Colin Beattie, was arrested weeks later over the same probe but was also released without charge.

And in June, Sturgeon was herself arrested, spending seven hours in custody before police released her without charge, with the Glasgow Southside MSP later telling journalists she was “certain” she had “done nothing wrong”.

But the support Sturgeon experienced from many of her party’s own politicians and activists remained unwavering, as she received a standing ovation at the SNP conference in October 2023.

Sturgeon later denied her presence overshadowed Yousaf’s first conference in charge.

In recent weeks, Sturgeon’s legacy has again been called into question over her retention of informal messages received and sent during the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

During her evidence to the inquiry’s Edinburgh hearings, Sturgeon confirmed she had deleted WhatsApp messages sent to officials during the pandemic, insisting it was in line with Scottish Government policy and key information had been retained on the official record.

The former first minister also became visibly emotional as she recounted the tough decisions taken during the pandemic, stating she would carry the regrets for “as long as I live”.

Since her resignation, the SNP – and Scottish Government – have been battling with a resurgence of Labour, with both parties targeting the other’s seats at the upcoming Westminster election.

June 2023: Sturgeon speaks outside her house for the first time since her arrest

The first electoral test without Sturgeon at the helm came in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election after a recall petition removed former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier following her coronavirus rule breaking.

Labour won the seat with a 20-point swing over the SNP.

That result has given the SNP’s opponents hope amid an upcoming fight for the most Scottish seats at the forthcoming general election.

Polling shows the SNP’s lead over Labour is narrowing, the Ipsos’ Scottish Political Monitor showing the SNP remains seven points ahead, down from a 12-point lead in May, and a ten-point lead in November.

And Sturgeon’s key ambition of Scottish independence remains unrealised – with the SNP now going into the general election with the strategy of winning a majority of seats in Scotland to launch immediate negotiations.

Sturgeon remains in Holyrood as an MSP and is now writing a “deeply personal” memoir on her life as she rose from a working class Ayrshire family to the steps of Bute House.

It is expected to be published in 2025.

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