The supporters of Scottish independence are losing face: Nicola Sturgeon has surprisingly announced her resignation as Prime Minister and Chair of the Scottish National Party (SNP). Part of good leadership is instinctively knowing when the right time has come, said the 52-year-old at a short-notice press conference in Edinburgh. "With my heart and my mind, I know this is the right time."
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Conservative Party have lost one of their most well-known and bitter opponents. With an emphatically liberal policy, Sturgeon had repeatedly presented alternatives to the hard line of the government in London, thereby driving several prime ministers before him. Nevertheless, in more than eight years in office, she never managed to gather a sustainable majority for detachment from the United Kingdom in the northernmost part of Britain, as political scientist Kirsty Hughes told the German Press Agency.
Dispute over controversial gender law
Even if Sturgeon denied a connection in her press conference: A dispute over a controversial gender law finally became her undoing. The plan, approved by the Scottish Parliament and blocked by the British government, aims, among other things, to eliminate the requirement for a medical report as a prerequisite for a gender entry change. Critics such as "Harry Potter" author Joanne K. Rowling warn that men could take advantage of the simplified regulations to enter areas reserved for women, such as women's changing rooms or toilets, for sexual motives.
The controversy came to a head in the case of a trans woman who raped two women before her gender reassignment as a man. After public uproar, Sturgeon decided not to place the sex offender in a women's prison. In an interview at the end of January, the politician began to falter. She did not want to answer clearly whether all trans women were women and thus excused herself by saying that in the "prison context" trans women do not automatically have a right to accommodation in the women's area. Observers interpreted this as a break with their previous line. Trans people are people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
longing for privacy
A month ago, Sturgeon appeared not even remotely considering retiring. She "still has a lot in the tank," said the politician energetically in a BBC interview. But now her engine sputtered. The politician recently seemed tired and exhausted, said political scientist Hughes. Sturgeon herself said she longs for privacy and time with friends and family. In a bright red suit, in front of a Scottish flag, the outgoing head of government seemed relaxed after her announcement and could hardly help smiling.
Your party, and with it the independence movement, are at a crossroads. Her person polarized the debate too much, Sturgeon said. In fact, the leading Scottish politician of the past decade made too many wrong decisions, as expert Hughes said. For example, Sturgeon did not have the support of the entire party for her plan to make the next British general election a de facto referendum on independence. The party leader also insisted on her position in the gender debate - despite loud resentment in her own ranks.
One thing is already clear: without the ubiquitous Sturgeon, who has been in the regional parliament since 1999, has held a leading party position since 2004 and has been the longest-serving head of government in Scottish history since November 2014, the part of the country will change. At that time, after the failed independence referendum, she succeeded Alex Salmond, who has since fallen out with Sturgeon and has founded a new party, Alba.
The belief in independence remains
Now the future is uncertain. There is no natural succession plan, Hughes said. Finance Minister Kate Forbes, for example, who has just returned from parental leave, is mentioned. Sturgeon's Vice John Swinney and Secretary of Health Humza Yousaf are also considered candidates.
The pursuit of independence is likely to remain the core theme even without Sturgeon. The party actually wanted to set the course there at a special party conference in mid-March. That is now in question - it is hard to imagine that the successor will then be clarified. Sturgeon seemed confident. "I firmly believe that my successor will lead Scotland to independence," she said. Former SNP leader in London, Ian Blackford, praised Sturgeon as the architect of the proposed disengagement. "We owe it to her to finish the job," he said.