The surprise announcement means the contenders to succeed her will be competing from a standing start.

There appears to be no obvious front-runner in the contest so far, although certain members of Ms Sturgeon’s Scottish government are being tipped as likely candidates.

The SNP’s leader at Westminster, Stephen Flynn, is also being touted as a possible challenger, and Mairi McAllan, the MSP for Clydesdale could be in the frame..

Màiri McAllan MSP for Clydesdale

Nicola Sturgeon is a feminist, so it is almost certain that she will support a woman in the race to replace her. Perhaps she will look no further than Mairi McAllan, the MSP for Clydesdale. McAllan is young, speaks well, looks well and just loves Sturgeon. This was her Twitter message this morning: “It’s hard to overstate the intellect, dedication, empathy and humility with which Nicola Sturgeon has led us – and through the most challenging times.  I am personally very sorry she’s stepping down. It’s been my honour to know and work with her for many years. Scotland is a better place because of her.💛  Thank you, First Minister.

Kate Forbes

She became the Scottish government’s finance secretary in February 2020, the first woman to hold the post.

The 32-year-old went on maternity leave last July – the first ever serving Scottish Cabinet secretary to do so – and gave birth to her daughter Naomi in August.  It has recently been reported that Ms Forbes, who is married to Ali MacLennan, is prepared to consider a leadership bid, but she has been off on maternity leave and her domestic duties will most likely take precedence over politics.

Previously it was thought she did not harbour such ambitions, although she has been touted as a future SNP leader since entering the Scottish Parliament as MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch in 2016.

The daughter of missionaries, Ms Forbes spent much of her childhood in India.  She is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, sometimes known as the ‘Wee Frees’, who are opposed to gay marriage and believe vociferous  opponents of abortion.

Her Christian faith has been scrupulously avoided as a subject to discuss in interviews with the media since that would not go down well with the feminists in her party.

Sturgeon’s government was accused of rushing through its controversial gender identity reforms before Christmas, but Ms Forbes remained on maternity leave, in order to prevent a potential revolt lest the 32 year old would join her colleague Ash Regan and walk out of the SNP cabinet.

 Angus Robertson

This brought him to quit as the SNP’s deputy leader and he set up a pro-independence think-tank in Edinburgh during his time out of elected office.  He only returned to frontline politics at the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, when he became MSP for Edinburgh Central.

Humza Yousaf

One resignation that would have caused no shocks at all this morning would have been that of Humza Yousaf, 37, the Scottish Government’s health secretary, who became Scotland’s first Muslim Cabinet minister in 2018, when he was appointed justice secretary. Everyone and her granny has been calling for Humza’s resignation for months.  I have no idea how many times West Dunbartonshire’s Jackie Baillie, Labour’s health spokesperson in Scotland, has been at the front of that particular queue.

Yousaf has been MSP for Glasgow Pollok since 2016, having previously been elected to the Scottish Parliament as an additional member for the Glasgow region in 2011 at the age of just 26.  Despite being tipped as a possible replacement for Ms Sturgeon as First Minister, Mr Yousaf’s chances could be harmed by the current health crisis in Scotland.  He has come under particular pressure over long waiting times for ambulances and emergency care.

John Swinney

John ‘Honest John’ Swinney is currently Scotland’s deputy first minister and realistically has no chance of of taking over from Sturgeon.

The 58-year-old has been an MSP ever since the Scottish Parliament’s creation in 1999.

He has held a series of top Cabinet jobs in the Scottish government – including a beleaguered stint as education secretary – and most recently has been deputising as finance secretary during Ms Forbes’ maternity leave. He can count, but he can’t cut it with the media which is surprising since his wife, Elizabeth, is a journalist with BBC Scotland.

Keith Brown

Brown is the SNP’s current deputy leader and also the Scottish government’s justice secretary.

The 61-year-old is a former Royal Marine and a veteran of the Falklands War.  He was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2007, and has held several ministerial positions since then.  Mr Brown has been at the centre of the row over the Scottish government’s handling of transgender prisoners, which will do his chances no good whatsoever when it comes to a leadership election.

The transgender issue went down like a lead balloon with the public and is seen by many as the straw that broke NIcola Sturgeon’s back.

He was forced to order an urgent review by the Scottish Prison Service following outcry over the cases of trans rapist Isla Bryson and Tiffany Scott.

Bryson was revealed to have been held at a women’s prison when awaiting sentence for raping two women while a man.

Scott, who had been convicted of stalking a 13-year-old girl before her transition, had also been due to be sent to a female unit.

Joanna Cherry

Joanna Cherry has been MP for Edinburgh South West since 2015 and has previously held frontbench roles for the SNP at Westminster.

She became one of the SNP’s leading voices in the battles over Brexit in the UK Parliament.

But the 56-year-old was later sacked from a prominent position in the party amid reported tensions with Ms Sturgeon over her support for ex-SNP leader Alex Salmond, the party’s independence strategy and transgender rights.

She has recently been one of the most vocal opponents of the Scottish government’s controversial gender identity reforms, with Ms Cherry forced to deny allegations of transphobia. What she calls the ‘utterly toxic’ debate over transgender rights has seen her receive death threats, she has previously revealed.

Stephen Flynn 

Stephen Flynn has recently taken on the role of SNP Westminster leader following the resignation of Ian Blackford amid the party’s internal divisions.

He has been MP for Aberdeen South since 2019 and has made efforts to try and shed claims he is at the heart of a ‘laddish’ group of SNP politicians in London.  On taking over from Mr Blackford he attacked reports about a ‘Tuesday Club’ of nationalist MPs.  He said it was ‘upsetting’ to be linked to a culture of beer and curry – claiming he can ‘barely stomach korma’.

The 34-year-old’s possible ambitions to succeed Ms Sturgeon could be hindered by the fact he does not sit in the Scottish Parliament, but he is now well known in Westminster where he pushed himself up front in the queue of senior figures to be introduced to Ukrainian president Vladimir Zolenskyy – and enjoyed the publicity that went with that.  Politicians love to get their name in the newspapers and to be pictured on television.

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