NICOLA Sturgeon’s announcement she will step down as First Minister has sparked tributes across the fierce political divide in Scotland.

The SNP leader announced she would quit as head of her party and the Scottish Government was hailed by opponents and allies following the unexpected resignation statement on Wednesday morning.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted his thanks for the First Minister’s “long-standing service”.

He said: “My thanks go to [Nicola Sturgeon] for her long-standing service. I wish her all the best for her next steps.

“We will continue to work closely with the [Scottish Government] on our joint efforts to deliver for people across Scotland.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said he was "glad" to see Sturgeon go. 

He said: "Whatever our differences, it is right we recognise that political leadership is always demanding and takes its toll on a person and their family.

"I am glad Nicola Sturgeon has recognised this is the right time to go.

“However, at this time, we cannot ignore that she has presided over a decade of division and decay in Scotland.

“Instead of trying to unite the country in the wake of the 2014 referendum, Nicola Sturgeon refused to accept the result. Her entire tenure as First Minister has been characterised by relentless agitating for another vote on separation – governing in her party’s interests, rather than Scotland’s.

“As a result, Scotland has been in a state of constitutional paralysis ever since – divided and unable to move on from the Groundhog Day of 2014 and its toxic legacy, despite the wish of the majority of Scots to do just that."

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In a statement, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack called Sturgeon “a formidable politician” though he added her resignation presented a “welcome opportunity for the Scottish Government … to drop its divisive obsession with independence”.

He said: “Nicola Sturgeon has been a formidable politician and I thank her for her service as First Minister for eight years. I particularly appreciate the work that she undertook to help us deliver two new freeports in Scotland, bringing thousands of jobs and millions of pounds of investment. 

"A new First Minister will have a real chance to refocus the Scottish Government on what they were elected to do – improve public services such as health and education that people rely on and that are vital to Scotland's future success. 

“Her resignation presents a welcome opportunity for the Scottish Government to change course, and to drop its divisive obsession with independence. 

"I want to see a Scottish Government that works hand in hand with the UK Government to realise our full potential as a country.”

Her partners in the Scottish Government, Greens ministers Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, released a joint statement calling Sturgeon the “most significant political figure of the devolution era”.

They said: “Nicola Sturgeon has truly been a major figure in Scottish and UK politics in her decisive, tireless and collaborative leadership through unprecedented challenges and we are sorry to see her step down.

“She is the most significant political figure of the devolution era. Whoever replaces her will have the strongest foundation to build forward the argument for delivering independence, for how we ramp up efforts to tackle the climate emergency and manage the cost of living crisis which continues to impact lives daily.”

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The Greens’ co-leaders said they looked “look forward to continuing to deliver on our shared ambition for a greener, fairer Scotland, both in the immediate future and with a new First Minister in place”.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the First Minister had “led Scotland through some of the most challenging times in our history”.

He added: "It is right that today we pay tribute to those achievements, particularly during the pandemic.

"Regardless of our differences, she is an able politician who has stood at the forefront of Scottish politics for more than 20 years. On a human level that is worthy of respect and thanks.

"To lead your country for almost a decade is a political achievement that secures her place in history.

"While we have disagreed passionately about what is best for our people, I have never doubted her passion for Scotland for a moment.

"All too often it is easy to forget that those on the frontline of our politics carry a heavy burden – not only for themselves but for their friends and families.

"I – and my entire party – wish her the best in whatever she does next.

"But our country, now more than ever, requires a politics focussed on delivering the change Scotland needs – by uniting Scotland and not dividing it.”

LibDem MP for Caithness Jamie Stone said: “For some time, the divisions within the SNP and the wider nationalist movement have become increasingly apparent. In view of this, perhaps it is no surprise that Sturgeon has called it a day. 

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"What this means for Scotland's future is very important. I hope that it means the shelving of a blind faith in independence and – at long last – attention being turned to the issues that really matter in the Far North.

"The direction of the next Scottish Government remains to be seen, but I am utterly convinced that Scottish people want to see a decent, compassionate, and united Government, not one riddled with the in-fighting and bullish dogma that has arisen from the independence movement – a movement that means increasingly less to the constituents I speak to day in, day out."

The Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "Nicola Sturgeon’s talent has undoubtedly shaped Scottish political life and she deserves to be thanked for her public service. Today is not a day for political attacks. I wish her well for everything that comes next.

“It is to Nicola Sturgeon’s credit that she has been open about the pressures and stresses that leadership has involved. Everyone will recognise how hard it will have been particularly to steer the country during the pandemic and the weight of those decisions.

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“Scotland needs leadership that will focus on what really matters because every corner of our NHS is in crisis, the cost of living is punishing, islanders still need new ferries and education deserves to be a top priority."

Former first minister and Alba Party leader Alex Salmond said the FM's resignation left the independence movement with "no clear strategy for independence". 

He said: "There has been no question of Nicola’s talents as a first-rate political communicator and election winner and having been there I feel for her personally on the day of her resignation.

"There are two questions for the future.

"One is that the movement has been left with no clear strategy for independence.

"The previously accepted referendum route has been closed and the de facto referendum/election proposal is now, at best, up in the air. 

"Secondly there is no obvious successor. There are a range of able people in the SNP but they will now be tested in the fire of leadership inheriting a range of serious government policy challenges.

"It is to be hoped that those voices which wish to reunite the national movement emerge to win that contest.”