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Sturgeon's exit prompts rethink on referendum

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-02-17 09:27

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon speaks at a news conference at Bute House where she announced she will stand down as first minister, in Edinburgh, on Feb 15, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

The campaign for Scottish independence may be put on hold following the surprise resignation of Scotland's leader, Nicola Sturgeon, on Wednesday.

The search to replace Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, or SNP, since 2014, is underway, with the party's national executive committee expected to meet on Thursday to work out a succession timetable.

The SNP is due to hold a special conference in the spring, to debate whether to treat the United Kingdom's next general election as a de facto referendum. However, the leader of the party in Westminster's House of Commons, Stephen Flynn, has now called for such a decision to be delayed.

"In my view that conference should be paused," he told the BBC's Breakfast program. "We should allow our new leader the opportunity and the space to set out their vision, their priorities, domestically in relation to the NHS (National Health Service), the economy, the cost of living crisis, but also give them the space to chart their course when it comes to that pathway to independence.

"I think it's the right thing to take a breather. I don't think the public will be surprised if we do that and I hope that's the decision that is come to."

Michael Russell, the SNP president, supported the proposal.

"There is a question to be asked as to whether that should be postponed whilst the leader comes into place," he told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland, adding, "I think it's a matter that needs to be discussed."

Russell, a senior figure in the party who supported Sturgeon's stance on how to fight the next general election, also warned against infighting.

"That would be a very foolish thing to do and the SNP is not a foolish party," he said.

Although the SNP continues to lead the polls in Scotland, Sturgeon's plan to use the next general election, expected next year, as a battleground for another referendum push, following a previous one in 2014, has caused friction within the party.

A UK government minister told Sky News that SNP policies were losing their appeal.

"I think it is apparent to people in Scotland now that the SNP are a bit played out," said Neil O'Brien, a health minister. "In public services, things are not working. Many of the other things that they're doing are going wrong."

He added: "Her problems have been mounting for a while so it's not particularly surprising that she has chosen this moment to go."

Sturgeon said in her resignation speech that her party has an "array of talent" ready to replace her. Sky News reported the possible contenders include current deputy leader of the SNP, Keith Brown, the SNP's finance and economy secretary, Kate Forbes, the party's current constitution, culture and external affairs secretary, Angus Robertson, the SNP's health secretary, Humza Yousaf, and Scotland's current deputy first minister, John Swinney.

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