But Tory leader Ruth Davidson rejected the call and warned that the new Prime Minister must show a commitment to Scotland’s place in the union. The First Minister warned that the prospect of a hardline Brexiteer replacing Mrs May as “deeply concerning” as it could mean the UK being ripped out of the EU without a deal on future arrangements.
The SNP leader has already set out plans for a second referendum in the next two years and indicated that she is preparing to seek a Section 30 order, which would allow this, from Mrs May’s eventual successor. “For Scotland, the prospect of a hardline Brexiteer Tory becoming Prime Minister is not a happy one,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“The people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU – and not only has that been completely ignored, but it is now clear that a devastating no-deal Brexit - which would cost jobs, businesses and livelihoods - is firmly back on the Tories’ agenda.
“That makes it all the more essential that Scotland has a choice of becoming an independent country.”
The Scottish Government is expected to publish legislation next week to hold a secopnd referendum but control over the constitution lies with Westminster and Mrs May had rejected calls from Ms Sturgeon for a repeat of the 2014 vote.
But Mrs May’s exit will not resolve the Commons stalemate over Brexit, Ms Sturgeon added.
“It will not resolve Brexit itself,” he said.
“Putting another Tory leader in Downing Street without a general election is not the solution to this crisis. “The only way to resolve Brexit is to put the issue back to the people.”
But the SNP leader wished her departing Tory counterpart well for the future.
“While we had many political disagreements - not least over her handling of Brexit and her disregard for Scotland and the Scottish Government - leadership is not easy, and Theresa May should be thanked for her service.”
But Ms Davidson was quick to warn that any potential leadership candidate must take a strong line against a second referendum in order to win her endorsement.
“Theresa May knew when she took on the job of Prime Minister that the challenges facing our country were unprecedented,” Ms Davidson said
“Her time in office has been characterised by the hard work, resilience, quiet dignity and attention to detail for which she is known.
“Above all, by opposing the SNP’s call for an immediate second independence referendum in 2017, the Prime Minister demonstrated her resolute commitment to the Union, and to Scotland’s place in it.
“As Britain’s second female Prime Minister, she has been a role model for girls and women across the United Kingdom, showing that there is no glass ceiling to their ambitions.
“As leader of the Scottish Conservatives, I want to see candidates show that same level of commitment to Scotland’s place in the Union, an ability to advance our interests at home and abroad and, crucially, demonstrate how they intend to bring our country back together after the divisions sown by two constitutional referenda.”
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie who served as Mrs May’s parliamentary private secretary paid tribute.
“It has been the privilege of my life to serve such a dedicated, loyal, patriotic and thoroughly decent woman,” he said.
“We saw again today why we have been so lucky to have her as leader of our party and country.”
Labour leader Richard Leonard said Mrs May leaves the country “more divided” and has fallen short on her promise to tackle the “burning injustices” in society.
“She will leave the country in chaos as a direct result of her refusal to compromise over self-imposed red lines on Brexit,” she said.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said Mrs May faced “an impossible job” to deliver Brexit that would not damage the country.
he said: “People have lost patience with the Conservatives. It’s clear they are going to be unable to get the country out of the mess they have made. The best route is to give people the chance to stop Brexit.”