First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon said she has “no intention of going anywhere right now” when asked about the future of her political career.
In an interview with the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon accused her opponents of “crossing their fingers and hoping I’ll remove myself from office” because she is “going to be around a lot longer”.
Rumours circulated about when the First Minister might leave politics after she said that she and her husband – SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – may foster children in the future in an interview with Vogue magazine last month.
But when asked if she can guarantee that she will lead the SNP in the next Holyrood election, Ms Sturgeon replied: “I will fulfil the mandate I have been given to govern as First Minister for this term of the Scottish Parliament, I will set out my intentions.
“It’s almost as if my opponents can’t beat me, or remove me from office themselves, so they are kind of crossing their fingers in hoping I’ll remove myself from office.
“But they are going to be disappointed because I am going to be around a lot longer. And given how many Tory and Labour leaders have come and gone in my time as First Minister, perhaps a lot longer than them and a lot longer than they might wish me to be.”
Ms Sturgeon was re-elected in May after the SNP won the Scottish Parliament election. She has been serving as First Minister since 2014.
When asked about independence, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP “intend to take the steps” that enable a referendum to happen before the end of 2023.
She said she hoped the country would be out of the “acute” phase of the pandemic early next year to allow Scotland to return its focus to its future.
Ms Sturgeon said: “When Scotland is again contemplating the best future for the country, we are doing that not in the shadow of a pandemic that is taking and has taken too many lives, but as we are recovering from that and turning our minds to the positive optimistic task of how do we build a better country?
“That means for Scotland getting to choose who’s making these decisions, not having somebody like Boris Johnson imposed on us and deciding for ourselves.”
Ms Sturgeon stressed her current focus as First Minister is to rebuild the country from the damage caused by the pandemic, adding: “We don’t want people to take a massive decision about the future of the country while we are still worrying about face coverings and testing ourselves every day before we go places.”
In response to the interview, Scottish Conservative chief whip Stephen Kerr MSP said: “Nicola Sturgeon has 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.
“The Scottish Conservatives are building the real alternative to the SNP, so we can remove this nationalist government from power.”
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, a group campaigning to keep Scotland in the UK, said: “This confirms that Nicola Sturgeon sees her priority as dividing the people of Scotland.
“What she has really got a job to do is fix the mess her government has made of the NHS, schools and public services because of her obsession with separation.
“Rather than trying to distract from her failings, she should drop her plans for an unwanted second referendum and focus on what really matters to people.
“As part of the UK we are stronger together and can build a successful future that leaves no community behind.”