Anyone Who Thinks Nicola Sturgeon's Departure Kills Off Independence Is Kidding Themselves

The SNP leader's decision to resign could rejuvenate the campaign to break up the UK.
Nicola Sturgeon is waving goodbye to the biggest job in Scottish politics.
Nicola Sturgeon is waving goodbye to the biggest job in Scottish politics.
Jane Barlow via PA Wire/PA Images

Supporters of Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom can be forgiven for cracking open the champagne this evening at the news that Nicola Sturgeon is quitting as SNP leader.

In more than eight years as first minister, she has dominated Scottish politics, seen off numerous opponents and cemented the SNP’s position as the natural party of government north of the border.

A combination of political nous, a ferocious work ethic and outstanding communication skills has made her the pre-eminent Scottish politician of her generation.

However, on the question of whether Scotland should be independent - the SNP’s entire reason for existing - Sturgeon has undoubtedly failed.

She might have claimed in her press conference today that “there is now majority support for independence in Scotland”, all available evidence suggests otherwise.

A poll earlier this week showed that support currently stands at 44%, with 56% opposed - essentially unchanged from the 2014 referendum result.

After close to a decade in charge, and despite enjoying so many apparent political advantages - Brexit and Boris Johnson being just a couple - Sturgeon has failed to convince a majority of Scots of the wisdom of leaving the UK.

There is a school of thought that if even Sturgeon could not deliver independence, what chance does whoever comes next have?

Nevertheless, it does not automatically follow that, as she departs Bute House, Sturgeon takes with her any hope of Scotland becoming independent.

The field to succeed her is wide open, ranging from the safe and steady old guard (John Swinney and Angus Robertson) to the young and ambitious next generation (Kate Forbes and Stephen Flynn).

Sturgeon herself suggested this morning that she had become too divisive a character to win over the undecided, so might a fresh face at the helm finally shift the dial?

And with the departing first minister’s plan to turn the next general election into a “de facto referendum” on independence causing deep division within the SNP, could a new leader unite their troops behind a different strategy which will appeal to a majority of Scottish voters?

None of this will be easy, of course. The SNP have been in power for nearly 16 years, and face a renewed challenge from a reinvigorated Labour Party.

But their opinion poll lead in Scotland remains healthy, and Labour supporters who deserted the party in 2014 have thus far shown little desire to return to the fold.

Sturgeon’s successor faces a difficult challenge to unite the SNP while also building enough support for independence to force Westminster to finally accede to a second referendum.

But to suggest that it’s an impossible task in the post-Sturgeon era is for the birds.


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