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What does Nicola Sturgeon’s Resignation mean for Scottish Independence

Nicola Sturgeon’s sudden departure as Scotland’s First Minister severely damages the chances of independence. After Alex Salmond resigned following the failed 2014 independence bid, Sturgeon was tapped as the next leader. Since then, she has successfully led her party through some extremely difficult times and has managed to leave a very positive legacy according to many.

Sturgeon has been an MSP since the Scottish parliament was opened in 1999, and is its longest-serving first minister. In government, she served as Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing between May 2007 and September 2012 and then as Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment, and Cities with responsibility for government strategy and the constitution until 2014. On November 14th, 2014 she became the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and has championed Scottish independence ever since.

The timing of Sturgeon’s departure could not have been worse for those supporting the cause. A pivotal vote was already planned to take place at the SNP’s annual conference two weeks after her resignation.

The question is as follows:

Since the UK supreme court has ruled definitively that the Scottish parliament cannot hold an independence referendum without Westminster’s approval, should the SNP attempt to use the next UK general election as a de facto referendum on independence?

Delegates at the convention will also be offered a variation on that question which is: to use the 2026 election as the proxy referendum.

Members of the SNP are calling for the conference to be delayed until a leader can be put in place while others are opposed to any further delays in progressing the independence movement. It is not clear though, who is the front-runner to be the next first minister. A lack of leadership combined with the Labour party exclaiming that Sturgeon’s departure will mean an increase of 10-15 seats, the SNP has more than just independence to worry about.

The timing of this conference and vote come when almost record support is shown for independence. Early 2023 combined polling shows 50.7% support for independence, over 15% higher than when the previous vote was called. In 2014, there was less than 30% support for independence with the final vote receiving 45% saying yes.  While some critics say the ceiling is still 45%, a successful campaign should easily be able to build on the 50% current support.

In 2022 Sturgeon said she was still planning to hold a fresh referendum in 2023 and repeated the mantra that her government has a “very firm mandate” to do so. The odds of that plan seeing the light of day in 2023 are not in the best interests of the SNP given her resignation. The party should focus on finding a leader who can fill the large shoes left by Sturgeon, ensuring the Labour Party does not gain ground, and then bring back the question of independence in 2024.

The SNP cannot focus on Scottish Independence right now. Instead, they need to secure their party’s chances of maintaining government. Only after a leader is found, elected, and shown to be capable of leading the independence movement will the SNP have any chance of seeing an independent Scotland.

Prepared by the Sovereign North Research Team 

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