Where It Stands After Leader Sturgeon’s Resignation


Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation Wednesday, leaving an unclear path for a new referendum for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom after her government spent the last decade pushing for a second vote.

Key Facts

Sturgeon was elected leader of the Scottish National Party and as First Minister just weeks after Scotland’s 2014 referendum to leave the United Kingdom failed, but she announced her resignation in a surprise announcement this week because of the “brutality” of being a politician.

In the June 2016 Brexit referendum, 62% of Scottish voters wanted the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union — but the majority of the United Kingdom voted to leave, meaning Scotland would leave, too — which became a turning point in the push for a second independence referendum.

The day after the Brexit vote, Sturgeon called Scotland’s removal “against our will” from the EU “democratically unacceptable” and said a second vote for independence from the United Kingdom is “highly likely.”

In February 2017, the Scottish government voted 90-34 to oppose the UK leaving the EU, and by the next month had voted in favor of holding a second referendum on Scottish independence.

After Sturgeon’s pro-independence party lost 21 seats in the 2017 UK general election and amid ongoing Brexit negotiations, she postponed the second independence referendum effort to at least fall 2018.

In April 2019, Sturgeon declared plans for a second referendum vote before the end of the Scottish parliamentary session in May 2021.

After Sturgeon’s party won 80% of the Scottish seats in the House of Commons in December 2019, which she considered a mandate on independence, the Scottish Parliament passed a framework for governing referendums and requested then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson to grant authority to administer a Scottish independence vote.

Johnson rejected Sturgeon’s request for a second referendum in January 2020, saying the 2014 referendum was intended to be a “once in a generation” vote.

After the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted referendum plans, Johnson rejected another request from Sturgeon to hold a referendum in June 2022, and the UK Supreme Court dashed Sturgeon’s attempts to hold a referendum vote without the UK government’s approval.

Key Background

Sturgeon has long supported independence, maintaining Scotland would be better off politically and economically if governed directly by its residents. Public support for independence has fluctuated slightly, with a majority backing independence in 2020 as Scots disapproved of Boris Johnson’s pandemic response and his approval rating plummeted. But support has waned, with a recent poll showing 44% of Scots supporting independence — a similar result to the 2014 referendum where 45% voted in favor of independence.

Chief Critics

Sturgeon faced consistent opposition for a referendum from Boris Johnson, who led the UK government for several years of her First Minister tenure. Johnson made a “cast-iron” pledge in 2019 to not grant Sturgeon power to conduct a second referendum and claimed the result of the 2014 referendum should stand. Leaders of other Scottish political parties have criticized Sturgeon and their party for their focus on independence; Scottish Labour Party deputy leader Jackie Baillie has called SNP’s push for independence an “obsession” amid the lack of a clear majority of voters in favor of independence according to recent polls.


Sturgeon’s resignation comes weeks after former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced she would step down. Ardern and Sturgeon drew comparisons for resigning rather than being pushed out and opting to step down because of the emotional intensity of serving in politics.

What To Watch For

Who the Scottish National Party will select as its new leader. Sturgeon will not step down until a successor is chosen.

Further Reading

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon will resign, complicating the independence movement (NPR)

Nicola Sturgeon resigns: Scotland’s first minister says politics has taken its toll (BBC)

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/conormurray/2023/02/16/scotlands-push-for-independence-where-it-stands-after-leader-sturgeons-resignation/