Nicola Sturgeon has resigned as Scottish First Minister and SNP leader in a hastily arranged press conference this morning.
In a long and incredibly personal speech from her official residence in Edinburgh, the 52-year-old said she knew "in my head and in my heart" that it was time to step down. But she said she remained "confident" that Scotland was on course to win independence and that she could have led her party to victory if she had chosen to stay on.
Sturgeon has been the leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister since 2014 after taking over from Alex Salmond. She is the country's longest serving First Minister.
He announcemenet came amid mounting pressure on the First Minister in recent weeks over her handling of trans prisoner Isla Bryson and her push for Scottish independence from the UK.
However she said her departure was "not a reaction to short-term pressures".
“This decision comes from a deeper and longer term assessment. I know it might seem sudden, but I’ve been wrestling with it for weeks," she added.
She told the reporters gathered: “I am proud to stand here as the first female and longest serving incumbent of this office and I am very proud of what has been achieved in the years I’ve been blessed to do this.
Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation at a press conference this morning Jane Barlow
“However, since the very first moment in the job, I have believed that part of serving well would be to know, almost instinctively, when the time is right, to make way for someone else.
“And when that time came, to have the courage to do so, even if to many across the country and in my party, might feel it too soon.
Nicola Sturgeon is Scotland's longest serving First Minister Jane Barlow
She said she had decided to quit after 'wrestling' with the decision for weeks Jane Barlow
“In my head and in my heart I know that time is now. That it is right for me, for my party and for the country. And so today I am announcing my intention to step down as First Minister and leader of my party.”
Sturgeon said leading Scotland through the pandemic is “by far the toughest thing I’ve done”, adding the weight of responsibility was “immense”.
“It’s only very recently I think that I’ve started to comprehend, let alone process, the physical and mental impact of it on me.”
She went on: “If the only question was ‘can I battle on for another few months?’, then the answer is yes, of course I can.
“But if the question is, ‘can I give this job everything it demands and deserves for another year, let alone for the remainder of this parliamentary term – give it every ounce of energy that it needs in the way that I have strived to do every day for the past eight years?’ – the answer honestly is different.
“And as that is my decision, hard though it has been for me to reach it, then given the nature and scale of the challenges the country faces, I have a duty to say so now.”
Alison Thewliss, the SNP MP for Glasgow Central and the party’s home affairs spokesperson, said she was “gutted” at the news.
She tweeted: “Absolutely gutted about this. Nicola has been an incredible leader.”
Nicola Sturgeon said she had a 'duty' to step down now Jane Barlow
The party's Stewart McDonald said: "Nicola Sturgeon is the finest public servant of the devolution age.
"Her public service, personal resilience and commitment to Scotland is unmatched, and she has served our party unlike anyone else.
"She will be an enormous loss as First Minister and SNP leader."
Last week, polling indicated Sturgeon had failed to keep Scottish voters on side with her plans.
Nicola Sturgeon took over from Alex Salmond in 2014 Andrew Milligan
A Panelbase survey found 42 per cent of respondents thought she should stand down now, while 45 per cent said she should remain as First Minister at until at least the next Holyrood election.
Of those surveyed, 13 per cent said they didn’t know.
A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said the poll was evidence the First Minister was "massively out of touch".
Sturgeon's resignation comes at a critical moment for the SNP.
Her party will meet next month to discuss the holding of treating the next UK election as a “de facto referendum”, with more than 50 per cent of the vote being considered a mandate to begin negotiations for Scotland to become an independent country.
Polling indicates there is no clear favourite among party members for who should replace the First Minister.
Among the bookies, Angus Robertson, the SNP's former Westminster leader, has emerged as an early favourite with Betfair offering even odds. Kate Forbes (5/1), Humza Yousaf (8/1) and John Swinney (9/1) are other contenders to replace Sturgeon.