NICOLA Sturgeon said her resignation would accelerate the independence movement because she is a divisive figure.

Announcing her intention to stand down as the head of both the SNP and the Scottish Government, the First Minister said allowing new blood into leadership could “depolarise” a public debate she said was focused on personalities.

She told a press conference in Edinburgh on Wednesday morning: “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.

“To achieve that we must reach across the divide in Scottish politics. And my judgment now is that a new leader will be better able to do this – someone about whom the mind of almost everyone in the country is 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.”

She added: “I feel more and more each day now that the fixed opinions people increasingly have about me, some fair and others a little more than caricature, are being used as barriers to reason debate in our country.

“Statements and decisions that should not be controversial at all quickly become so. Issues that are controversial end up almost irrationally so.

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“Too often I see issues presented as a result viewed, not on their own merits but through the prism of what I think and what people think of me.

“I’ve always been of the belief that no one individual should be dominant in any system for too long.”

Sturgeon added: “If all parties were to take the opportunity to depolarise public debate just a bit, to focus more on issues that on personalities, and to reset the tone and the tenor of our discourse, then this decision, right for me, and I believe my party and the country, may also prove good for politics.”