Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she will serve a full term as First Minister and dismissed speculation she is preparing to step down as “wishful thinking” from her opponents.
The SNP leader said that she had “no intention of going anywhere” as she attempted to shut down rumours that she was looking towards life after politics.
She recently fuelled speculation about her future by revealing she had discussed becoming a foster parent with her husband and was thinking of writing her memoirs.
She has also regularly spoken about the toll leading the country through the pandemic has taken on her and has appeared to lose her patience more often with journalists and opposition MSPs.
However, speaking to the BBC ahead of her party’s conference which begins on Friday, Ms Sturgeon said she intended to serve out the “mandate” won at May’s Holyrood election, meaning she would remain in post until at least 2026.
First Minister bullish about staying the course
The First Minister refused to confirm that she would lead the SNP into the next Holyrood election, by which time she would have been in power for more than a decade.
“It is almost as if my opponents have concluded they can’t beat me or remove me from office themselves, so they’re kind of crossing their fingers and hoping that I’ll remove myself from office,” she said.
“But they are going to be really disappointed because I’m going to be around a lot longer. I was elected seven months ago, having asked people in Scotland to put their trust in me for a five-year term as First Minister.
“They gave me that trust and they re-elected me. We face serious times as a country and I intend to fulfil that mandate.”
Ms Sturgeon recently celebrated her seventh anniversary as First Minister, and will shortly overtake Alex Salmond – her former friend and mentor, whom she has since fallen out with – as the longest-serving resident of Bute House in the devolution era.
She also insisted she planned to stick to her plan to hold an independence referendum by 2023.
The First Minister said that she does not want a referendum to be held “while we are still worrying about face coverings and testing ourselves every day”, but hoped that the “acute” stage of the pandemic would be over by early next year.
Ms Sturgeon revealed that civil servants had begun work on the case for independence and that a referendum Bill, which would be likely to be challenged in the courts by Westminster, would be published at Holyrood in time for her 2023 timetable to be met.
The Scottish Tories said that Ms Sturgeon had confirmed “she is going to spend the next four years obsessing about breaking up the United Kingdom and failing Scotland, just as she has done for the last 14 years”.
Neil Bibby, the Scottish Labour MSP, said Ms Sturgeon’s interview was “a self-indulgent distraction from the challenges facing this country”.
He added: “Frankly, this is merely a desperate attempt by the First Minister to drum up some interest ahead of SNP conference. In this time of acute public health crisis, it is telling that the First Minister is again thrusting her party’s separatist agenda to the fore.”