Sturgeon exits with unanswered questions
Nicola Sturgeon signalled her departure from front line politics by leaving questions over her successor, the independence campaign and missing campaign money.
The First Minister told the nation, through a media conference, that she had decided the time was right for her to go and denied it had anything to do with short term pressures.
However, she surprised those who expected a normally self-disciplined leader to have prepared her party and the country for her announcement and a clear path forward for the party, or herself.
She said she will remain an MSP at least until the next Scottish elections but she gave no details of her plans which some believe are likely to involve an international dimension.
SNP members will now be asked to elect a new leader ahead of a key meeting on the referendum campaign.
Ash Regan, who quit the Government in protest over the controversial gender reform Bill, is said to be thinking of standing. Others are likely to include Kate Forbes, Angus Robertson and Keith Brown. Mr Robertson has been installed as the bookies’ favourite.
They will have to determine the next stage of the party’s key independence strategy which is currently mired in internal division over the failed legal action and Ms Sturgeon’s now uncertain plan for a ‘de facto’ referendum at the next general election.
At her media conference at Bute House Ms Sturgeon effectively admitted that she had divided the nation and that it would be up to her successor would have to build support for independence. “Someone who is not subject to quite the same polarised opinions, fair or unfair, as I now am,” she said.
But within the party there is a fear that without their chief talisman the campaign will lost its momentum, a point not lost on unionists who see her departure as likely to force independence down the political agenda.
Scottish Labour holds its conference in Edinburgh this week and there will be some re-writing of prepared speeches among delegates who will welcome party leader Sir Keir Starmer on Sunday, buoyed by the exit of the biggest obstacle to retaking Scottish seats.
There are other internal SNP issues left unresolved, not least around the party’s finances. As her Bute House concluded Ms Sturgeon was loath to comment on whether she has been interviewed by police amid an ongoing investigation.
She dodged a question over an inquiry into more than £600,000 which has gone “missing” from the party’s coffers.
The money – raised by independence campaigners in 2017 – was supposed to be ‘ring-fenced’ to be spent on independence campaigns.
But serious questions were raised about the money two years later when it emerged the SNP had less than £100,000 in its bank account. A file was passed by police to the Crown Office last month, asking for ‘further instructions’.
At the close of the Bute House press conference Ms Sturgeon was asked if she expects to be interviewed by the police over the matter.
She gathered up her notes, and replied: “I’m not going to discuss an ongoing police investigation. I wouldn’t do it on any issue and I’m not going to do it now.”
Comment: Time for a new deal with the union