Nicola Sturgeon’s sudden departure from office and Scottish politics has left both supporters and opponents in shock, and also wondering how this will affect the campaigns for and against independence. Pro-independence supporter and journalist Lesley Riddoch believes that Unionist opponents are praising Sturgeon to try and signal the end of the independence campaign. Riddoch stated that this is “a bit of a backhanded compliment” in recognition of Sturgeon’s role, but it is being used to “sink the cause of independence.” Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accused Sturgeon of focusing on independence for ten years despite losing the 2014 referendum.
Riddoch believes that this “changing of the guard” presents an opportunity to reinvigorate the campaign with fresh, younger blood. The Special Democracy Conference, scheduled for March 19, was to allow party members to debate whether the UK general election next year should be framed as a “de facto” referendum. Sturgeon pointed to differences of opinion over a “de facto” referendum as one factor in her decision to step aside to make way for a new leader to set out their own path. Scottish media expert Robert Beveridge called Sturgeon “formidable,” “hard-working,” and “competent,” and said her departure would be “a huge loss to democracy and decency in politics.” Scotland in Union campaign organization leader Pamela Nash said Sturgeon was leaving at a time when “we are all suffering from the consequences of her choice to concentrate on dividing our country.”
Currently, there is no obvious successor to Sturgeon, though some names are already being discussed. These include Angus Robertson, John Swinney, Humza Yousaf, and Kate Forbes. Riddoch believes that the independence campaign will have to jump a generation, as Sturgeon’s leadership style did not bring on other people very strongly. Michael Brooke, a member of the Better Together campaign that opposed independence in the 2014 referendum, expressed relief that Sturgeon has gone, but hopes that the next SNP leader will not be more “divisive.” He believes that if the SNP leader is more sensible and looks at what other people are thinking, this could benefit the cause of Scottish “nationalism” within a UK framework.