NICOLA Sturgeon has resigned as First Minister of Scotland and hinted the "brutality" of life as a modern politician led to her standing down. 

The FM called a last-minute press conference at Bute House on Wednesday morning before reports emerged a resignation was on the cards.

Sturgeon said her resignation “frees the SNP” on the issue of Scottish independence “to choose the path it believes to be the right one without worrying about the perceived implications for my leadership”.

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It comes ahead of a special party conference in Edinburgh next month where the party will thrash out the details of a de facto referendum. 

Sturgeon said that the "nature and form of modern political discourse" meant there was greater "intensity" and "brutality" to the life of a politician than just a few years ago. 

The FM insisted she wouldn't be leaving politics and would continue to champion causes she believes in from Holyrood's backbenches. 

A tearful Sturgeon told the people of Scotland that her time in the role was the "privilege of her life". 

Speaking at the press conference, the FM said: "In my head and heart I know my time is now.

"Today I am announcing my intention to stand down as First Minister and leader of my party."

The National: The FM announced her intention to stand down at a press conference on WednesdayThe FM announced her intention to stand down at a press conference on Wednesday (Image: PA)

Sturgeon said she had instructed the national secretary of the SNP to begin the process of electing a new leader and that she would “remain in office until my successor is elected”.

The SNP leader said she knew there were some people who would “feel upset by this decision”.

She added: “And of course for balance there will be some who, how can I put this, will cope with the news just fine, such is the beauty of democracy.

“But to those who do feel shocked or disappointed, or perhaps even a bit angry with me, please… be in no doubt that this is really hard for me.

“My decision comes from a place of duty and of love.

“Tough love, perhaps, but love nevertheless for my party and above all for the country.”

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She added: "First, though I know it will be tempting to see it as such, this decision is not a reaction to short-term pressures. Of course, there are difficult issues confronting the Government just now, but when is that ever not the case?

“I have spent almost three decades in frontline politics, a decade-and-a-half on the top or second-top rung of government.

“When it comes to navigating choppy waters, resolving seemingly intractable issues, or soldiering on when walking away would be the simpler option, I have plenty of experience to draw on.

“So if this was just a question of my ability or my resilience to get through the latest period of pressure I wouldn’t be standing here today, but it’s not.

“This decision comes from a deeper and longer-term assessment. I know it may seem sudden, but I have been wrestling with it, albeit with oscillating levels of intensity for some weeks.

The National: Sturgeon said she had been wrestling with the decision for a number of weeksSturgeon said she had been wrestling with the decision for a number of weeks (Image: PA)

“Essentially, I’ve been trying to answer two questions: Is carrying on right for me? And more importantly is me carrying on right for the country, for my party and for the independence cause I have devoted my life to?”

Sturgeon added that her party was “firmly on course to win the next election, while our opponents remain adrift”.

She added: “The longer any leader is in office, the more opinions about them become fixed and very hard to change, and that matters.

“Individual polls come and go, but I am firmly of the view that there is now majority support for independence in Scotland.

“But that support needs to be solidified and it needs to grow further if our independent Scotland is to have the best possible foundation.

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“To achieve that, we must reach across the divide in Scottish politics and my judgment now is that a new leader would be better able to do this.

“Someone whom the mind of almost everyone in the country is not already made up, for better or worse. Someone who is not subject to quite the same polarised opinions, fair or unfair, as I now am.”

Sturgeon said leading Scotland through the pandemic is “by far the toughest thing I’ve done”, adding the weight of responsibility was “immense”.

“It’s only very recently I think that I’ve started to comprehend, let alone process, the physical and mental impact of it on me.”

She went on: “If the only question was ‘can I battle on for another few months?’, then the answer is yes, of course I can.

The National: Sturgeon waves to members of the public from Bute House following her announcement Sturgeon waves to members of the public from Bute House following her announcement (Image: PA)

“But if the question is, ‘can I give this job everything it demands and deserves for another year, let alone for the remainder of this parliamentary term – give it every ounce of energy that it needs in the way that I have strived to do every day for the past eight years?’ – the answer honestly is different.

“And as that is my decision, hard though it has been for me to reach it, then given the nature and scale of the challenges the country faces, I have a duty to say so now.”

Sturgeon said: “I am a human being as well as a politician”.

Continuing her resignation speech, Sturgeon said being First Minister and Deputy First Minister is a “privilege”, adding: “But they are also really hard and especially in the case of First Minister relentlessly so.

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“Now to be clear, I’m not expecting violins here. But I am a human being as well as a politician.

She added: “My point is this, giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less.

“But in truth that can only be done by anyone for so long. For me, it is now in danger of becoming too long.

“A First Minister is never off duty, particularly in this day and age there is virtually no privacy. Even ordinary stuff that most people take for granted like going for a coffee with friends or for a walk on your own becomes very difficult.”

Sturgeon would not be drawn on who she wanted to succeed her as SNP leader, instead arguing the party is "awash with talented individuals".