NICOLA Sturgeon has admitted she may not lead the SNP into the next Holyrood election, saying she will decide whether she is still the right person “nearer the time”.

The First Minister said her “default position” was that she would attempt to win a fifth term in power for her party in 2026, by which time she would have been First Minister for 12 years.

However she also told an audience at the Edinburgh Fringe that it was not a given, and she would have to assess whether she still had the appetite and energy to do it.

The Glasgow Southside MSP, who is 52, would have been in the Scottish Parliament for 27 years by the time of the next election, making her one of its longest-serving members.

Ms Sturgeon made the comments in the Iain Dale: All Talk show at the Pleasance at EICC.

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Asked about her future and whether she could still stay in touch with ordinary voters’ concerns after so long in office, she said: “Who in this room can say with 100 per cent certainty what we'll be doing four years from now?

“The default position is that of course I’ll fight the next election, but I will make a judgment on that nearer the time.

“This is a serious job and anybody in a job like this owes it to the public to make sure that they’re the right person to do it, that they've got the energy to do it, that they've got the appetite, that they're prepared to make the enormous commitment that a job like this involves, and to constantly be assessing and reassessing that.

“I think that's important, and I will try my best to do that. 

“And I think most Scottish politicians of all parties will testify to - maybe this is a bit Scottish, not uniquely but particularly Scottish -  I think politicians that get out a touch above themselves very quickly get brought crashing back to earth in Scotland.”

However, she said she remained up for the challenge of fighting a second independence referendum, which she wants to hold in 2023, and failing that fighting the next Westminster election, expected in 2024, as a “de facto referendum” on independence.

She said the line pushed by her opponents that she was “just waiting for the right time to chuck it, to stand down and to move onto some grand international job” was “nonsense”.

She said: “It's wishful thinking on their part. I've been First Minister now for almost eight years and in those eight years I've fought and won as leader of my party eight elections.

“So you can see why people like [Scottish Liberal Democrat leader] Alex Cole-Hamilton would like me to stand down and not be up for the fight anymore.

“But I'm up for the challenge. 

“I’ve believed in Scottish independence for my whole adult life. I've campaigned for it for my adult life. It's not about separation. It's not because I think Scotland is better than any other country. It’s about self government. It's about being in charge of our own destiny. 

“I’ve believed that all of my life, but my goodness, it is really, really important for Scotland to be independent though so that we are no longer taken in the wrong direction by that bunch down in Westminster that we don’t vote for.”

There has been growing speculation at Holyrood that Ms Sturgeon will step down after the next general election, allowing her successor 18 months to bed in before the 2026 poll.

Were she to remain First Minister up to the next Holyrood election, she would be in office  almost as long as Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

If she were to fight the next election on a promise of fulfilling a new parliamentary term as First Minister, it would take her to 2031 and 17 years in Bute House.

History shows that leaders who stay in power so long fall out of favour with the public, and their opponents present themselves as the voices of change.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: "With hundreds of thousands of Scots facing a long cold winter, we need a First Minister whose head is in the game.

"Nicola Sturgeon has served a long time at the top, I'm sure no one would blame her for walking away. 

"Scotland needs a First Minister who is totally committed to tackling the cost-of-living crisis, helping our NHS recover from the pandemic and making Scottish education the best in the world again.

"It's clear that that is never going to be Nicola Sturgeon."