Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks to lawmakers

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks to lawmakers

Outgoing Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon leaves the main chamber after her last First Minister's Questions FMQs in the main chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Thursday March 23, 2023. Jane Barlow PA via AP LONDON AP - Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon spoke to lawmakers for the last time as Scottish leader on Thursday, expressing pride in her government's achievements to lessen poverty and inequality, but frustrated in her quest to make Scotland an independent country.

Sturgeon faced strong criticism from opponents in her 286th and final First Minister's Questions session in the Scottish Parliament. In scrappy exchanges, opposition leaders slammed her for Scotland's long health care waiting times, homelessness problem and high drug death toll.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross claimed that she was obsessed with independence, she divided our country and failed in every mission she set herself. Sturgeon told Edinburghers that she had made my fair share of mistakes in the last eight years. There are things I wish I had done better or differently. She said that she was proud of what has been achieved, and I am proud of what has been achieved, highlighting work to lift children out of poverty.

Sturgeon, 52, announced last month her resignation after more than eight years as the first minister in Scotland's semi-autonomous government and leader of the Scottish National Party. The winner of a party contest to replace her will be announced on Monday.

She leaves the U.K. with her main goal, independence for the nation of 5.5 million people, unmet.

Scottish voters backed remaining in the U.K. in a 2014 referendum that was billed as a once-in-a-generation decision. The SNP wants a new vote, but the central government has refused to authorize one, and the U.K. Supreme Court has ruled that Scotland can't hold one without London's consent.

The party is divided on its next steps, but Sturgeon said she was confident that her successor will lead this country to becoming an independent nation. She said her decision to quit was a personal one and it was time for Nicola Sturgeon the politician to make a bit of space for Nicola Sturgeon the person. Sturgeon's resignation has unleashed a battle for the direction of the SNP, which currently holds 64 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament and governs in coalition with the smaller Greens.

Her husband, Peter Murrell, stepped down as party chief executive last week over a kerfuffle about the party's declining membership and claims by some that a clique around Sturgeon wields too much power in the SNP.

Some people think that the SNP under Sturgeon spent too much time focusing on divisive social issues rather than the economy and independence. Sturgeon's departure was caused by a backlash over legislation she championed to make it easier for people in Scotland to change their gender.

In a farewell statement, Sturgeon said it had been an utter privilege to lead her country.

Three lawmakers are running to replace Sturgeon: Scotland's Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, 32, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, 37, and 49-year-old lawmaker Ash Regan. Sturgeon said that means that Scotland will soon get its second female first minister or its first leader of color.

She said that it would send the very powerful message that this, the highest office in the country, is one that any young person in Scotland can aspire to.