Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon stunned the world by resigning Wednesday morning, February 15th, at a press conference in Edinburgh. Sturgeon, who has been Scottish First Minister for eight years, had come under pressure for her handling of the Isla Bryson case, where a self-described ‘transgender woman’ convicted of two rapes was remanded in a women’s prison through the use of Scottish transgender laws passed by Sturgeon’s government last year.
Sturgeon confirmed her intention to step down as both Scottish First Minister and leader of the SNP but said she will remain in office until the SNP elected a new leader. She explained her decision as a long time coming and not a reaction to recent events, and said that her continued leadership would jeopardise prospects for Scottish independence.
Sturgeon’s response to the Isla Bryson scandal has been described as “chaotic and cynical” by opposition leaders and the case has raised questions about Scotland’s self-identification rules for ‘gender identity.’ Scottish feminist groups have called for the revoking of legislation in the aftermath of the case.
Sturgeon generated controversy by referring to the rapist as male before backtracking as divisions opened up within the SNP over the debacle. The Scottish Gender Affirmation Act was passed in 2022, allowing individuals over the age of 16 to receive a gender recognition certificate without a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and was regarded as a signature policy for her administration.
During the press conference at her official residence, Sturgeon referred to her resignation as motivated by the “brutality” of the role and the polarised opinions she engenders.
On top of Sturgeon’s mishandling of the Isla Bryson case, commentators have linked her dramatic decision to the announcement of a fraud investigation into the SNP’s finances by Scottish police as well as to the ongoing risk of strikes in the NHS due to pay disputes.
An SNP official described the resignation to the Telegraph as being the SNP’s “Jacinda Ardern moment” in reference to the departure of the New Zealand prime minister last year, adding that it was “[b]etter to leave before the ship sinks and you’re pushed.”
Pundits have pointed to cabinet secretary Kate Forbes and Member of the Scottish Parliament Angus Robertson as potential successors.