Picture of Nicola Sturgeon during her resignation speech on February 15th, 2023

Nicola Sturgeon resigns: What happens next?

Nicola Sturgeon has resigned after eight years as first minister of Scotland. 

She has been in charge since November 2014, just a month after the No vote in the Scottish independence referendum led to her predecessor — Alex Salmond — standing down. 

Ferret Fact Service explains what happens next.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotland's impartial fact check project

When will she step down? 

On 15 February, Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention to resign, saying she would stay as first minister until a successor was found. 

She also said the national secretary of the SNP — Lorna Finn — had been asked to begin the process of electing the next SNP leader. 

How will the SNP leadership election work?

The next leader of the party will be elected after a leadership election. The rules of this are set out in the SNP’s constitution. 

Candidates from within the party can put their names forward to become leader, but they must have 100 nominations from party members in at least 20 local party branches to get on the ballot.

If more than one candidate passes the threshold, there will be an election where all party members can vote for their preferred party leader. 

The election could last a number of months. The SNP’s constitution states that a leadership election is 77 days after the opening of nominations.

In the previous leadership election in 2014, Nicola Sturgeon was elected unopposed. 

The SNP leader does not need to be an MSP. For Alex Salmond’s first term at the head of the party he was an MP in the UK Parliament.

The last contested leadership election took place in 2004, with Salmond elected as SNP leader with 75.8 per cent of the vote. 

Party membership has increased significantly since Salmond was elected leader, reaching more than 100,000 people in the years following the 2014 referendum. 

Who could replace her? 

No-one has officially announced they will be running for the position of leader of the SNP. Angus Robertson, cabinet secretary for the constitution, external affairs and culture, is the current favourite to be the next first minister, according to betting odds aggregators.  

Other potential candidates suggested in the media include Kate Forbes, former leader John Swinney, and health secretary, Humza Yousaf. 

How is a first minister elected?

Once the SNP leadership election has been concluded, Nicola Sturgeon will step down as first minister, tendering her resignation to the reigning monarch King Charles. 

The next first minister is elected through a vote of MSPs. While any MSP can stand, in practice, the party with the largest number of MSPs is likely to win, so the winner of the SNP leadership election (providing they are an MSP) will become the next first minister.

Once a first minister has resigned, the Scottish Parliament has 28 days to nominate one of its members as their successor.

A first minister is also elected after every Scottish Parliament election. In 2021, Nicola Sturgeon was re-elected with 64 votes, over Douglas Ross and Willie Rennie, who challenged. 

The winner of the vote is then recommended to the King by the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, and is appointed. The first minister can then appoint cabinet secretaries and ministers. 

Will the new leader have to call an election?

The new first minister would not have to call an election until 2026, as the SNP was re-elected in 2021 and governs as part of a co-operation agreement with the Scottish Greens. 

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