Nicola Sturgeon ’emphatic’ she is still best person to lead SNP | Politics

Nicola Sturgeon has said she believes “emphatically” that she remains the best person to lead the SNP, as two party heavyweights both tipped as future first ministers commence their battle to return to the Scottish parliament in the 2021 elections.

Sturgeon was quizzed on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show about increasingly public criticisms from SNP politicians about her independence strategy, after Boris Johnson ruled out granting the legal powers necessary to hold a second referendum in perpetuity.

She replied: “I do think the issues of frustration can be slightly overblown in this very heated world we live in,” while confirming she intended to lead her party to victory at next year’s Holyrood elections and return as first minster.

She told Marr that two conditions were required for her to remain as leader: “First you have to have support not just of party but of country and I would say humbly that I’ve just led my party to another landslide election victory, the sixth election victory I’ve led my party to in my five years as party leader and first minister. But secondly I have to be sure that I want to do this job, think I’m the best person to do this job and have the drive and energy and that is emphatically the case.”

Sturgeon’s comments come as two of the SNP’s most influential figures, Joanna Cherry and Angus Robertson, announced their bids for nomination to contest the coveted Holyrood parliament seat of Edinburgh Central, currently held by the former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, who plans to step down next year.

Cherry, a prominent MP who last year garnered plaudits for leading the successful legal challenge to the prorogation of parliament, confirmed on Saturday evening that she would be seeking the candidacy – just days after Robertson, the party’s former leader at Westminster, did so.

While the outcome of the selection will reflect local loyalties, it must also be viewed in the context of ongoing arguments about party strategy as well as anxieties about the impact of Alex Salmond’s trial for alleged sexual offences, which begins in March.

Robertson, the respected party veteran and a close supporter of Sturgeon, is known to favour a more gradualist approach, telling the Guardian last October that support for independence was at “a pivot point”, but warning: “People also say they want to see the impact of Brexit before they decide to do something else.”

Cherry has attracted hostility and abuse for her challenges to the Scottish government’s plans for reform gender recognition legislation. In a recent lecture organised by Edinburgh Law School, Cherry urged the Scottish government to pass a bill to hold a referendum, which would inevitably be challenged in court by the UK government, suggesting it could be “part of a multifaceted strategy which would move us away from the current impasse and stop the constant and unproductive talk about section 30 orders and seeking ‘permission’ to act from Westminster”.

But Sturgeon told Marr that, while she did not rule out testing Holyrood’s power to hold a second referendum in the courts, “it is not my preferred option because I believe these things should be settled politically not legally”.

Responding to criticism from those SNP politicians and activists who are growing increasingly restive at what they consider to be an overly cautious approach, she said: “Sometimes the hardest thing is to be frank with your own supporters.”

She said: “I want a referendum that is not just a gesture to allow us to make a point but a referendum that can effectively deliver independence” – before adding that “there is no shortcut here”. Activists had to continue the hard work of building support for independence, she said, which currently hovers just above 50% in recent polling.

The Guardian understands that other nationalist MPs are considering the move back to Holyrood, amid concerns that the government has lost vitality after over a decade in power. With other SNP MSPs due to retire next year, there is also a recognition within the Westminster group of the limits to what the party can achieve in the face of such a sizeable Tory majority.

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