Nicola Sturgeon resigns as first minister of Scotland at Bute House, Edinburgh (Picture: Scottish Governmenet/Flickr)

Nicola Sturgeon is stepping down as Scotland’s first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) amid a crisis in the independence movement. And her government is battling both NHS workers and teachers over pay.

In recent weeks Sturgeon came under fire from transphobes—including unionists and independence supporters—over Gender Recognition Reform. The move was then blocked by the Tories in Westminster. 

And some in her own camp attacked the plan to use the next general election as a “de facto referendum” on independence. The scheme, set to be discussed at a special conference later this year, doesn’t have the support of most SNP members in polls.

But at a press briefing  Sturgeon said her decision was “not a reaction to short-term pressures”.“There is a much greater intensity, dare I say brutality, to life as a politician than in years gone by,” she said. “It takes its toll on you and on those around you.”

Sturgeon took over at the top in November 2014 after the failed independence referendum. Support for independence rose since then partly as a radical alternative to the horror of Tory rule. And partly because the SNP grabbed a section of liberal and business support by promising to overturn Brexit.

But Sturgeon resigns as the independence movement faces a crisis. The SNP has absorbed its energy and used it to bolster its position as a mainstream pro-business government. It has the permanent excuse of the lack of democracy imposed by the British state. But its vision of what Scotland would be like is little different to, say, Keir Starmer’s ambition for Britain.

That has undermined the working class enthusiasm for independence. The pro-independence mobilisations on the streets are far smaller than five years ago. In October 2019 around 200,000 people joined the independence march in Edinburgh. Nothing like that seems possible now.

Sturgeon has always argued for an exclusively constitutional road to independence, with no defiance of the laws laid down by the British state. So when the Supreme Court decreed last year that the Scottish parliament could not hold a referendum she meekly accepted it.

It shows how non-threatening Sturgeon has been that both Rishi Sunak and Theresa May spoke warmly on Wednesday of her long years of service. The SNP’s record is one of being just a little bit better than the Tories—hardly a high bar of achievement. 

Its Covid policies saw a slightly lower death toll than Boris Johnson’s murderous approach. But it was still one of the worst performances in the world, with older people shipped form from hospitals into care homes without necessary testing.

Health policy is devolved to the Holyrood parliament. Scotland has “one of the lowest life expectancies in Western Europe,” according to a report by the Scottish Public Health Observatory. Mortality rates are twice as high in most deprived areas compared to the wealthiest, National Records of Scotland  data showed.

And the Health Foundation said life expectancy in Scotland had fallen by 4.4 years since 2013. But the SNP has not used the tax-raising powers it does have to squeeze the rich for more cash. Sturgeon was also recently questioned over her husband Peter Murrell‘s £107,000 loan to the SNP.

She said she could not recall when she first found out about the loan, and insisted that “what he does with his resources is a matter for him”. In December, it emerged that Murrell, who is the party’s chief executive, made the loan in June 2021 to help with “cash flow” following a Holyrood election campaign.

Following the election in May, SNP MP Douglas Chapman quit as the party’s treasurer, claiming he was not given enough information about finances to do his job. It came after three other members of the SNP’s finance and audit committee also resigned.

Police Scotland is also currently investigating what happened to an estimated £600,000 raised by party activists to be ring-fenced for a second independence referendum campaign. The SNP has denied any wrongdoing.

When Sturgeon announced her resignation, a journalist asked, “Have you been or do you expect to be interviewed by the police who are looking into your party’s finances?” Sturgeon replied, ”I’m not going to discuss an ongoing police investigation.”

The top two in the betting for next Scottish first minister are Angus Robertson and Kate Forbes. Robertson would offer more of the same of Sturgeon—but worse. He headed up the push for the SNP to back the Nato warmongers’ alliance. Forbes is anti-abortion and opposed to the trans rights reforms.

She might be seen as acceptable to those who broke away with Alex Salmond in 2021 to form Alba. That could hold out the possibility of a reunited SNP on a more right wing basis.

Sturgeon’s resignation should underline the need for a defiant movement that isn’t afraid of strikes, civil disobedience and confronting the British state. That’s not coming from the SNP. And socialists have to be at the forefront of supporting and extending all the battles over pay, trans rights and against racism. 

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