THE departure of Nicola Sturgeon opens up an opportunity for Labour in Scotland potentially paving the way for the election of Labour government at Westminster, according to senior party figures.

Following the First Minister's dramatic announcement that she is stepping down, party leader Sir Keir Starmer said Labour stood ready to be "the change that Scotland needs".

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said that for the first time since they lost power in 2010 there was now a belief in Scotland that a UK Labour government was possible.

At the same time, he said it would require the party to make "significant gains" in Scotland at the next general election - expected in a little over 12 months - for that to happen.

"For 12 years I don't think people in Scotland have believed that a Labour UK government was possible. I think that is changing now. I think people believe a UK Labour government is possible," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

"Our challenge is to demonstrate that that hope and belief in a Labour government can be made a reality, to persuade people that that is only possible if we're making significant gains and have significant representation in Scotland and then, most importantly of all, through that demonstrate how Scotland is stronger, strengthened and changing within a modernising, reforming UK."

Labour's long-standing stranglehold on Scotland in Westminster elections came to an abrupt end in 2015 when it was all but wiped out in an SNP landslide.

The party was widely seen to have paid the price for having campaigned alongside the Conservatives in the referendum on Scottish independence the year before, despite having helped secure a "no" vote.

But with support for leaving the UK having apparently stalled, shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray - who remains the party's only MP in Scotland - said there was a chance to reframe the terms of the political debate.

"We should use this time to reset our politics in Scotland away from issues that divide and to new ideas that unite and help all Scots," he said.

Jim Murphy, a former Scottish secretary who led Scottish Labour in the 2015 referendum, said it was an important moment in Scottish politics which would have implications for the wider UK.

"Today is a very significant moment in the election of a majority Labour government," he tweeted.

"Will be fascinating to see what impact this will have on support for Scottish independence, which have largely been stuck at the levels they were in 2014."

Labour former first minister Henry McLeish said Ms Sturgeon's departure left a gap at the top of Scottish politics which opened up an opportunity for Labour.

"One of the problems for the SNP is she's been such a formidable figure - how do they replace her?" he told BBC News.

"There is no doubt in my mind Scotland is still restless, it doesn't want independence. It is very much up to Westminster and the Westminster parties to stake a way forward. I think Labour will see an opportunity here."

The SNP will set out a timetable in the coming days to elect a new leader who will succeed Ms Sturgeon as First Minister.

The party was approached for comment on Labour's claims.