Tributes have been paid in Ireland to Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who announced on Wednesday that she is stepping down as leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister.
Citing the increasing pressures of public life, she said the “time is now” for her to stand down, adding that it is “right for me, for my party and for the country”.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described Ms Sturgeon as “a great friend of Ireland” and said she was sorry to learn of the decision.
“She has been an incredible advocate for the independence of her country, and I know that she will remain so as she steps down from office,” she said.
“She has taken a strong stance against Brexit and its impact on Scotland, as well as the undermining of devolved institutions by the Tories in London.
“She leaves a strong legacy, and I want to take this opportunity to offer every my warmest regards and best wishes to Nicola and her husband Peter for the future.”
First Minister-designate for the Six Counties, Michelle O’Neill, said Ms Sturgeon “has been one of the most formidable leaders of our generation.
“She has led real change as the First Minister of Scotland, and leaves a strong legacy of hope. It has been a privilege to work with Nicola, standing together for independence and against Tory chaos.”
She has been “an incredible advocate for her country and for the independence movement,” said SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. “Even beyond Scotland, her leadership has important lessons for those of us seeking to build a new, better future for our people. Every best wish for what comes next.”
Ms Sturgeon’s sudden exit led political commentators to draw parallels with the resignation last month of Jacinda Ardern as New Zealand’s prime minister, who cited similar pressures.
In her resignation speech, the SNP leader admitted she was unable to give her job “every ounce of energy that it needs”.
She said political life “takes its toll on you and on those around you. And if that is true in the best of times, it has been more so in recent years. Leading this country through the Covid pandemic is by far the toughest thing I’ve done. It may well be the toughest thing I ever do. I certainly hope so.”
Deeply polarising rows over her foray into the minefield of gender identity politics “wasn’t the final straw”, she said, but it is “time for someone else” to lead the party.
With legal efforts to bring about Scottish independence frustrated both at Westminster and by the Supreme Court in London, she had planned to fight the next general election as a ‘de facto referendum’ on Scottish independence. She said her resignation as Scotland’s first minister now “frees the SNP” on the issue of Scottish independence “to choose the path it believes to be the right one without worrying about the perceived implications for my leadership”.
The triumphalist response of unionists to the news confirmed the “brutality” of politics which she said she had endured in her eight years as SNP leader. While her party faces uncertainty in selecting a new leader, the opposition Labour Party made the unlikely boast that it would win fifteen additional Westminster seats in Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon predicted the cause of Scottish independence would continue to flourish under a new First Minister.
She said: “The longer any leader is in office, the more opinions about them become fixed and very hard to change, and that matters. Individual polls come and go, but I am firmly of the view that there is now majority support for independence in Scotland. But that support needs to be solidified and it needs to grow further if our independent Scotland is to have the best possible foundation.
“To achieve that, we must reach across the divide in Scottish politics and my judgment now is that a new leader would be better able to do this.”
She left the door open to a possible future role in public life when she said she would “be there” when Scottish independence is won.
“Winning independence is the cause I have dedicated a lifetime to. It is a cause I believe in with every fibre of my being. And it is a cause I am convinced is being won. I intend to be there as it is won, every step of the way.”