INDEPENDENCE supporters have rallied around Nicola Sturgeon, with thousands signing a petition urging her not to resign.

It comes in response to criticism of the First Minister amid the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against Alex Salmond.

Launched on Friday, the petition soared past its target of 10,000 signatures by Sunday afternoon. The target has since been increased to 15,000.

The petition was set up by independence supporter Bill Cruickshank.

He told The National: "I felt Nicola Sturgeon was being bullied into resigning by the British establishment and their lackeys in the media. Not because of wrongdoing on her part, but because she is the politician who can deliver Scottish independence in the near future.

“Her leadership throughout the pandemic has been outstanding, a fact recognised worldwide.”

Signatories also posted messages of support for the First Minister.

“Nicola Sturgeon is the epitome of a true leader,” Moreen Nesbitt commented. “She is one of the few politicians who comports herself with dignity and integrity. Unlike Boris Johnson Nicola has consistently put people before profits and prioritised the needs of the people of Scotland.

“Her leadership throughout this pandemic has been flawless.”

The National: Nicola Sturgeon in Holyrood

READ MORE: Ruth Davidson under fire for 'appalling' comments about Nicola Sturgeon

Peter Garland added: “To get rid of one of our greatest assets would be totally wrong.”

A judicial review found the Scottish Government’s investigation into Salmond was unlawful and tainted by apparent bias. The former SNP leader was awarded more than £500,000 in legal costs and was later cleared of all charges at the High Court.

Salmond believes Sturgeon’s allies were involved in attempts to remove him from public life and even have him sent to jail, while she has accused him of pursuing false conspiracy claims.

Last week, leaks of the report into the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints emerged. It apparently concludes the First Minister misled the Parliament over a meeting with her predecessor, but does not say whether or not she did so “knowingly”.

That sparked fierce criticism from Sturgeon’s opponents, including Ruth Davidson.

The Scottish Tory Holyrood group leader prompted anger as she called the First Minister the “head girl” of the “Old Boys’ Club” surrounding Salmond.

Davidson was told to “hang her head in shame” after making the “appalling” comments on Sky News.

To find out more about the petition, CLICK HERE.