So this afternoon Alex Salmond has announced that he stepping down as leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland. So as well as asking what next for the UK nation as a whole we are now asking what next for the SNP?
Firstly as has long been muted Salmond himself has already been grooming his successor, it was she who had a major role in planning the referendum agenda and steering the Yes Campaign. Nicola Sturgeon the MSP for Glasgow Southside has been the Deputy First Minister since 2007 and been the Depute Leader of the SNP for the last 10 years. If she were to fulfill what many see as her destiny, if a little earlier than they expected she would be the first women to lead any devolved power in the UK.
But the question is would there be a coronation or would there be a challenger? If the latter who might the competition come from.
One possibility is like Alex Salmond an alumni of Linlithgow Academy and with his was also expelled from the party for being part of the 79 Group his long term friend Kenny MacAskill. While Alex has mellowed on the demand for a republican socialist stance, MacAskill has said that once Scotland voted for Independence there would be a referendum on whether to keep the monarchy. He stepped down from standing with Sturgeon on a joint ticket to be her Depute when Salmond decided to restand for the leadership himself on a ticket with her instead. It is possible that that loyalty may be repaid with him become her deputy ten years on so that may be one reason why he wouldn't want to upset the apple cart.
Another alternative might be John Swinney who had been leader between Alex Salmond and Alex Salmond from 2000-2004. Since 2007 he has been the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth a job which many within the party would say he has be great at. Especially in his first four years when he had to get through his budget as a minority administration. He is closely associated with the gradualist wing of the party, which in light of the failure to secure independence might come to the fore of people's thinking as something that is needed to make the most of the negotiations that will ensue for more powers for Scotland. The down side to a Swinney bid is that in his previous term in charge, unlike Salmond who had been successful first time, he saw the parties fortunes slump.
The only other person with potential serious intent to lead the party is the man who challenged Swinney back in 2000. Alex Neil had the backing of the fundamentalist wing of the party. Instead of looking for a gradulaist approach it may be that some within the party are seeking a figure head to keep up the fundamentalist approach, if so Neil would be the natural figurehead for such feelings. Some may well feel that Salmond wasn't seeking to separate enough from the rest of the UK and was really fighting on a ticket of keeping the best bits of being in the UK and therefore the voters knew it wasn't real independence. Only if that is the case would Neil stand a serious chance of taking the leadership but it is the mood of the party that is important.
Nicola is in pole position, but as she also was heavily involved in the referendum campaign it is unlikely that she will go totally unchallenged from within. It depends which wing of the party is most angry with the way the referendum campaign was built up to be a success only to fall 10% short that may well decide who will take her on, and such a challenge may even come from both wings.
One thing though is certain. We live in interesting times.