Nicola Sturgeon has announced her resignation as Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP).

She said the decision has been “really hard” for her, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak thanking Ms Sturgeon on Twitter for her “long-standing service”.

But why has Nicola Sturgeon resigned, and what does this mean for the SNP and Scottish independence?

Here’s what we know so far.

Why has Nicola Sturgeon resigned?

Nicola Sturgeon has resigned as Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) after more than eight years in the role.

She made the announcement at a news conference at Bute House in Edinburgh on 15 February.

Ms Sturgeon has been a member of the Scottish Parliament since 1999, and became the deputy leader of the SNP in 2004.

She has been First Minister since November 2014, taking over from Alex Salmond following the independence referendum, and going on to become the country’s longest-serving First Minister to date.

She said part of serving well in her roles is to know when the right time is to resign and “having the courage to do so”, adding: “in my head and in my heart I know that time is now”.

Ms Sturgeon said her decision to step down is “really hard for me”, but “comes from a place of duty and love”.

The First Minister said her decision is not a reaction to short term pressures and that if this was just a question of ability or resilience “I wouldn’t be standing here today – but it’s not”.

She said her decision comes from questioning if carrying on is not only right for her, but right for Scotland, the SNP and for Scottish independence, and that she’s been having to “work harder” to convince herself the answer to this is yes.

Ms Sturgeon also noted that “giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it”, but that “you can only do it for so long”.

The First Minister also explained that leading the country through the Covid pandemic was the “toughest thing I’ve done”, and that she’s “only very recently started to comprehend the physical and mental impact of this”.

She also noted that she feels “more and more” that people have “fixed opinions” of her, some of which are “being used as barriers to debates” in the country and issues that shouldn’t be controversial are “becoming irrationally so”.

Members of Ms Sturgeon’s party have paid tribute to her time in office, with SNP president Michael Russell thanking her for her “extraordinary and brilliant leadership of her party and country”.

Fellow MP Stewart McDonald called Ms Sturgeon “the finest public servant of the devolution age” and said it would be “an enormous loss” to the country and party.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak thanked Ms Sturgeon on Twitter for her “long-standing service” and wished her “all the best for her next steps”.

He added: “We will continue to work closely with the @scotgov on our joint efforts to deliver for people across Scotland.”

When will she leave office?

It is not clear exactly when she will leave office. Ms Sturgeon said she has asked the National Secretary of the SNP to begin the process of electing the next leader and will stay in office until this has happened.

The timetable of when this will happen is a matter for the SNP national executive committee, who are expected to set this out in the next few days.

Ms Sturgeon said she’s not going to say who her preference is to succeed her, but that the SNP is “awash with talented individuals”.

Alex Salmond announced his resignation as First Minister on 19 September 2014, after Scotland voted to reject independence.

Ms Sturgeon then announced her bid for leadership just five days later, on 24 September, becoming leader of the SNP on 14 November and sworn in as First Minister on 20 November 2014.

Will Nicola Sturgeon continue as an MSP?

Ms Sturgeon said she will continue as a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP). She said she is stepping down from leadership, but not leaving politics as there are “many things” she cares about and hopes “to champion in the future”.

She added that being First Minister “has been the privilege of my life” and thanked the people of Scotland “from the bottom of my heart”.

What does this mean for Scottish independence?

Scottish independence has been a political priority for Nicola Sturgeon and something which she said she has “dedicated a lifetime to” because it’s a cause “I believe in with every fibre of my being”.

Ms Sturgeon said she believes she has led Scotland closer to independence and that her successor will lead the country to this.

But a recent poll of more than 2,000 adults by Lord Ashcroft – published in Holyrood magazine on 13 February – found that Scotland would vote No to independence by a 12-point margin if a referendum was held now.

Scots said they would vote No to independence by 56 per cent to 44 per cent, excluding those who ‘don’t know’ and those who would not vote.

Previous polls by Lord Ashcroft have found a four-point lead for Yes in August 2019 and a 51-49 lead for No in April 2021.

In November 2022, the Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence.

In response to this, Ms Sturgeon referred to her existing plan to approach the next UK general election as a “de facto” referendum on independence, announcing that a special SNP conference would be held in 2023 to determine her party’s approach to that election.

But Lord Ashcroft’s poll also found that those surveyed rejected Ms Sturgeon’s plan to treat the next general election as a de-facto referendum.

A spokesperson for Independent Scotland – a non-profit initiative which aims to inform people about Scottish independence – told FactCheck that Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation is “great news for Scotland and the independence movement”.

They said it’s now time for the SNP to “listen to their voters” when it comes to electing a new First Minister, or “people will find another party seeking independence”.