Will Nicola Sturgeon still be First Minister and lead the SNP into the 2026 Holyrood election? – Ian Swanson

Is Nicola Sturgeon planning to quit? Opposition politicians have been indulging in much speculation about the First Minister’s future.

Tuesday, 12th October 2021, 4:55 am

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Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross talks of a “very high probability" Ms Sturgeon will not lead the SNP into the 2026 Holyrood election. And the Lib Dems’ Alex Cole-Hamilton says she looks knackered and it’s difficult to see her still being leader by that election.

But Ms Sturgeon is betting on herself to carry on. She has agreed a £50 wager with Mr Ross that she won’t stand down before the 2026 poll and, for good measure, they also agreed “double or quits” on who would last longer as the leader of their respective parties.

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Unlike her predecessor and mentor-turned-tormentor Alex Salmond, Ms Sturgeon is not a gambling woman. So given her cautious nature, she must feel confident in her plan to stay on.

Intriguingly she spoke in a recent interview about stepping down while “still young enough to do other things” – but she’s 51 now so will not exactly be drawing her pension by 2026.

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Ms Sturgeon took over as SNP leader and First Minister in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum, when defeat for the Yes campaign might have been expected to leave the party and the movement downbeat and discouraged.

Nicola Sturgeon has been First Minister since 2014 (Picture: Andrew Milligan/WPA pool/Getty Images)

But instead there was an upsurge in enthusiasm, a determination to continue the campaign and a huge leap in SNP membership.

In the 2015 UK election, one poll found Ms Sturgeon came out top in a televised leaders’ debate with David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and others.

In the 2016 EU referendum, she again impressed a UK-wide audience. And more recently the contrast between her handling of the Covid crisis and that of Boris Johnson has enhanced her reputation. She will be a hard act for any SNP colleague to follow.

In the tense closing weeks of the last session, dominated by the inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of the Alex Salmond allegations, Ms Sturgeon is said to have warned her deputy John Swinney he might have to take over if she were found to have breached the ministerial code.

But Mr Swinney would only have been a temporary leader. He has already done that job and it didn't suit him.

Ms Sturgeon has named Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf as two potential successors although some might question whether either is ready for the top job just yet.

And former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson, who arrived at Holyrood in May as the new MSP for Edinburgh Central, is another seen as a likely contender.

Ms Sturgeon is Scotland's fifth First Minister. The first two had very short spells in office – Donald Dewar sadly died after less than 18 months; Henry McLeish was forced to quit over a fairly minor expenses scandal after just over a year.

Labour's third man in the job Jack McConnell served five-and-a-half years. Then Mr Salmond won power for the SNP and was FM for seven-and-a-half years before handing over to Ms Sturgeon.

She will clock up seven years next month and overtake Mr Salmond as longest-serving First Minister next May.

If she is to be taken at her word, that’s a milestone she will reach comfortably.

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