The race to replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s first minister is now under way – with the party meeting to set out the succession timetable later.
Sky News’ political correspondent Joe Pike understands the meeting will take place over Zoom at 6.30pm tonight.
Ms Sturgeon announced her resignation during a press conference in Edinburgh at her official residence, Bute House, on Wednesday.
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The 52-year-old said it had been “the very best job in the world” but that she believed part of “serving well would be to know almost instinctively when the time is right” to step down.
The longest serving and first woman first minister confirmed she would stay in post until somebody else takes over and remain as an MSP until at least the next Holyrood election.
The attention now turns to who will become Ms Sturgeon’s successor as leader of the SNP, which she has been at the helm of since 2014.
The SNP’s National Executive Committee will be meeting later today to work out a timetable for the leadership race.
In her resignation speech, Ms Sturgeon said her party has an “array of talent” ready to follow her.
Early possible contenders to become her successor include current deputy leader of the SNP Keith Brown, the SNP’s finance and economy secretary Kate Forbes, the party’s current constitution, culture and external affairs secretary Angus Robertson, the SNP’s health secretary Humza Yousaf and Scotland’s current deputy first minister John Swinney.
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The time for the SNP’s national executive committee meeting is 6.30pm.
After it, we should get some sort of statement or press release giving details of the terms or timetable of the leadership contest.
It does seem though that the start of this contest will be slow as Holyrood is on recess – no-one is actually here because it is half-term.
And I understand one potential contender isn’t even in the country as they are abroad on holiday.
Perhaps they will be hot-footing it back to the UK, as of course Boris Johnson after Liz Truss’ exit from Number 10.
The expectation is the contest will take six weeks, but the last contested leadership contest – which was almost 20 years ago in 2004 – took two-and-a-half months.
So, it may not be until April, possibly early May, when we get a new leader of the SNP and new first minister.
The SNP’s newly elected Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, who replaced Ian Blackford following his resignation in December, ruled himself out of the contest when speaking to Sky News.
As an MP and not a member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), Mr Flynn could currently only replace Ms Sturgeon as SNP leader – and not as Scotland’s first minister.
He told Kay Burley on Thursday: “I’ll indeed not be standing. Of course the next leader of the Scottish National Party needs to have the ability to be first minister – no MP has the ability to be first minister for obvious reasons that we are located in London and not Edinburgh.”
There is precedent for an MP to lead a Scottish party after Douglas Ross took over as head of the Scottish Tories in 2020.
Mr Ross’s predecessor, Ruth Davidson, deputised for him at First Minister’s Questions before he was able to take a seat in the Scottish Parliament himself at the 2021 election.
But Mr Flynn was not tempted to enter the race. Asked who he would be backing in the contest, he kept his cards close to his chest.
“In terms of who I’m backing, I’ve not seen anyone throw their name into the ring yet,” he said.
“Once names start going into that ring I’ll have conversations with my colleagues, see what their policy priorities are in terms of the immediate challenges that we face, how they intend to overcome some of the issues in relation to the economy, in relation to the health service, in relation to the cost of living crisis, and indeed our energy future, and of course how they set out their pathway to an independent future.
“I’m looking forward to that positive discussion once my colleagues decide whether they want to put themselves forward or not.”
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But the Westminster leader did say an SNP conference, set to take place next month about the party’s approach to fighting for independence going forward, should be delayed.
“I think the new leader should have the opportunity and indeed the space to set out their position, their values and their intentions going forward,” he said.
“I think it’s sensible that we do hit the pause button on that conference and allow the new leader the opportunity to set out their vision.”
Time for ‘healing’
Although the SNP continued to lead the polls in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon’s resignation followed a series of political challenges in recent months.
Her government has sought to push through gender reforms, only for them to be blocked by Westminster.
But she insisted the row surrounding a transgender double rapist being sent to a women’s jail “wasn’t the final straw” at her resignation press conference.
SNP MP Joanna Cherry, a long-standing critic of the gender recognition reforms, called for “reform and healing” in her party, and asked for it to react to the resignation of Ms Sturgeon in “a way that is beneficial to the country and the cause of independence”.
She also called for a “neutral caretaker CEO” to take over from Ms Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell.
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Rishi Sunak put aside his political differences with Ms Sturgeon to thank her for her service following the news of her departure.
One of his ministers, Neil O’Brien, told Sky News, however, that her departure offered the Tories “an opportunity… to do better in Scotland”, adding: “I think it is apparent to people in Scotland now that the SNP are a bit played out in public services. Things are not working.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, also paid tribute to the departing first minister, but told Kay Burley: “It’s an opportunity for the people of Scotland to come together, rather than some of the division that we’ve seen, and also for the focus to be on issues like the cost of living crisis, the issues in the National Health Service.
“Those are the issues that Scottish Labour are going to be focusing on.“
But further afield, a former US president said “good riddance” in reaction to her resignation.
Donald Trump said in a statement: “Good riddance to failed woke extremist Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland!
“This crazed leftist symbolizes everything wrong with identity politics.
“Sturgeon thought it was okay to put a biological man in a women’s prison, and if that wasn’t bad enough, Sturgeon fought for a ‘Gender Recognition Reform Bill’ that would have allowed 16-year-old children to change their gender without medical advice.
“I built the greatest golf properties in the world in Scotland, but she fought me all the way, making my job much more difficult.
“The wonderful people of Scotland are much better off without Sturgeon in office!”
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Meanwhile, tennis star Sir Andy Murray posted a tweet saying: “Interesting vacancy. Was looking to get into politics when I finish playing.”
Alongside both a winking and a laughing emoji, Ms Sturgeon jokingly replied: “I know I said I wouldn’t endorse anyone as my successor, but….”