THE First Minister said: “Being First Minister of Scotland is, in my opinion, the best job in the world. It is a privilege beyond measure – one that has sustained and inspired me, in good times and through the toughest hours of my toughest days.
“Since my first moments in the job, I have believed that part of serving well would be to know – almost instinctively – when the time is right to make way for someone else. And when that time comes, to have the courage to do so. In my head and my heart I know that time is now.
“Today, I am announcing my intention to step down as First Minister and leader of my party. I will remain in office until my successor is in place.
“I have been First Minister for over eight years, and I was Deputy First Minister for the best part of eight years before that. These jobs are a privilege but they are also – rightly – hard. And, it is only possible to give absolutely everything to a job of this nature for so long.
“Given the nature and scale of the challenges the country faces, I feel that duty, first and foremost, to our country – to ensure that it does have the energy of leadership it needs, not just today, but through the years that remain of this parliamentary term.
“We are at a critical moment. The blocking of a referendum as the accepted, constitutional route to independence is a democratic outrage. But it puts the onus on us to decide how Scottish democracy will be protected and to ensure that the will of the Scottish people prevails. I am firmly of the view that there is now majority support for independence. But that support needs to be solidified – and it needs to grow further if our independent Scotland is to have the best possible foundation.
“To achieve that we need to reach across the divide in Scottish politics, and my judgement now is that this needs a new leader.
“It has always been my belief that no one individual should be dominant in any system for too long. But, as a leader, while it’s easy to hold that view in the abstract, it is harder to live by it.
“I consider this decision to be the right one for me, my party and the country. I hope it can also be the right one for our politics. If all parties were to take this opportunity to try to de-polarise public debate just a bit, to focus more on issues, and to reset the tone and tenor of our discourse. “There will also be time in the days to come for me to say thank you properly to a very long list of people without whom I wouldn’t have lasted a single day in this job, let alone eight years. For now let me say thank you for all you have done for me, the government and the country.”