Nicola Sturgeon resigns: Key moments in SNP leader's career as she resigns as Scotland's First Minister

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Scotland’s most long-standing First Minister has announced her resignation – so let’s look back at key moments in Nicola Sturgeon’s career.

1986 – Nicola Sturgeon becomes an SNP member

At age 16, Nicola Sturgeon joined the Scottish National Party (SNP) and quickly became the party's Youth Affairs Vice Convener and Publicity Vice Convener. The next year, Sturgeon started door-to-door campaigning for her local SNP candidate Kay Ullrich.

1992 – Nicola Sturgeon stands for parliament for the first time

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon waves to people gathered outside Bute House in Edinburgh, after announcing that she will stand down as First Minister of Scotland. (Photo credit: Jane Barlow/PA)First Minister Nicola Sturgeon waves to people gathered outside Bute House in Edinburgh, after announcing that she will stand down as First Minister of Scotland. (Photo credit: Jane Barlow/PA)
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon waves to people gathered outside Bute House in Edinburgh, after announcing that she will stand down as First Minister of Scotland. (Photo credit: Jane Barlow/PA)

Aged 22, Sturgeon was the youngest ever parliamentary candidate in Scotland to stand in the 1992 general election. She was selected as the SNP candidate in the Glasgow Shettleston constituency, however, she did not win a seat, being beaten by Labour by a margin of almost 15,000 votes. The same year, she also stood as the SNP candidate for the Irvine North ward on Cunninghame District Council, but was unsuccessful.

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1999 – Nicola Sturgeon is elected to the Scottish Parliament

In 1999, Sturgeon stood in the first Scottish Parliament election as the SNP candidate for Glasgow Govan. While she did not win the seat, she won an additional member seat, and was elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament. In Alex Salmond's shadow cabinet, she served as Shadow Minister for Children and Education from 1999 to 2000. During her time in this role, she supported Labour's efforts to repeal Section 28 – a law put in place by Margaret Thatcher’s government which banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in schools.

2004 – Nicola Sturgeon becomes Depute Leader of the SNP

After John Swinney resigned as Leader, Sturgeon originally stood for election, but withdrew after Alex Salmond announced his intentions to stand and became his running mate. On September 3, 2004, Salmond and Sturgeon were elected as Leader and Depute Leader of the SNP.

2007 – Nicola Sturgeon is elected as Depute First Minister of Scotland

The SNP won the 2007 Scottish Parliament Election, although the party did not obtain a majority. Alex Salmond formed a minority government and was appointed as First Minister. He appointed Sturgeon as Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing.

2012 – Nicola Sturgeon is given new independence role

The Edinburgh Agreement was signed on October 15, 2012, setting terms for a Scottish independence referendum. Salmond put Sturgeon in charge of the legislative process and the SNP's referendum campaign.

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2014 – Nicola Sturgeon becomes First Minister of Scotland

On September 19, 2014, independence was rejected by voters in the Scottish independence referendum. After the defeat of the Yes Scotland campaign, Salmond resigned as First Minister and Leader of the SNP. Sturgeon bid for the role, with no other candidate able to receive enough nominations to run a viable leadership campaign.

On November 13, 2014, Sturgeon was formally acclaimed as Scotland’s First Minister and as the Leader of the SNP. She became the first ever woman to take on these roles. In her first speech as leader, Sturgeon said that it was "the privilege of her life" to become leader of the party she joined as a teenager.

2015 – Nicola Sturgeon leads Scotland to landslide victory in UK General Election

Under Sturgeon’s leadership, the SNP won recorded a landslide victory in the 2015 UK General Election. The party won 56 out of 59 Scottish seats at Westminster, replacing the Liberal Democrats as the third biggest party in the House of Commons.

2016 – Nicola Sturgeon is re-appointed as First Minister

The SNP failed to keep a majority in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, but was still the biggest party. While Sturgeon was challenged in an election contest by Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, she won the vote, and was re-appointed as First Minister in a minority government.

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2016 – Nicola Sturgeon announces plans for a new independence referendum

In June 2016, the UK voted to leave the European Union, despite all 32 Scottish council areas in Scotland voting to remain. In response, Sturgeon announced that Scottish Government officials would start planning for a second independence referendum. In a speech, she says: “The vote here makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union”.

2017 – Nicola Sturgeon calls 2017 election results “disappointing”

The SNP lost 21 seats in the 2017 UK General Election, but remained the biggest party in Scotland. Sturgeon described the results as “bitterly disappointing”.

2019 – Nicola Sturgeon refers herself to ethics body over Alex Salmond sexual harassment case

In January 2019, Police Scotland arrested Alex Salmond and charged him with 14 offences, including counts of attempted rape, sexual assault, indecent assault, and breach of the peace. Shortly afterwards, Sturgeon referred herself to an independent ministerial ethics body, after she admitted to having a secret meeting and phone call with Salmond about the allegations against him.

2019 – SNP wins landslide victory in UK General Election

The SNP made big gains in the 2019 UK General Election, winning 48 seats. In response to the results, Sturgeon said the win “renews, reinforces and strengthens" the mandate for a second independence referendum.

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2020 – Nicola Sturgeon leads Scotland through the Covid-19 pandemic

Sturgeon was in her second term when the world was hit by the Coronavirus pandemic. At first, the Scottish Government was hesitant to ban public events, but on March 18, Sturgeon announced that all schools and nurseries would close. Three days later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Sturgeon jointly ordered a "lockdown” of Scotland and the rest of the UK. Throughout the remainder of the crisis, Sturgeon led Scotland through the pandemic with varying success. While she was hailed by some for her “measured response”, reports concluded that the Scottish Government was not adequately prepared for a pandemic. In June 2021, Sturgeon admitted mistakes were made, and said: “If I could turn the clock back, would we go into lockdown earlier than we did? Yes, I think that is true."

2021 – Nicola Sturgeon leads SNP to win its fourth consecutive Scottish Parliament Election

Sturgeon led the SNP into the 2021 Scottish parliament election with a manifesto promise to hold a second independence referendum. The party won the election with 64 seats, although it was short of an overall majority. Sturgeon beat out Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Lib-Dem leader Willie Rennie to become the first First Minister of Scotland to form a third government. Following the historic win, Sturgeon said that the results meant that a referendum was “the will of the country”.

2023 - Nicola Sturgeon announces her resignation

On February 15, 2023, Nicola Sturgeon announced that she would be standing down as First Minister of Scotland. During a surprise press conference, she told the public that she believes “the time is now” to step aside. She listed the "physical and mental impact" of the role as one of her reasons for stepping down, and said: "In my head and in my heart I know that time is now. That it's right for me, for my party and my country."