Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy: assessing the First Minister’s achievements and mistakes
Nicola Sturgeon has announced she will resign, saying it was the best move for the Scottish independence movement - but also that the “brutality” of politics has taken its toll on her.
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She will be remembered as a fierce advocate for Scotland’s independence and a strong leader during a global pandemic, but Scotland’s outgoing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon leaves behind a complex legacy.
On Wednesday morning, Sturgeon announced she would resign, saying it was the best move for the Scottish independence movement - but also that the “brutality” of politics has taken its toll on her.
At a press conference at her official residence Bute House in Edinburgh, the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader said she had asked the National Secretary to begin the process of electing her successor. She would continue in the role until a new SNP leader was elected.
To the people of Scotland, whether they had voted for her or not, Sturgeon said: “Please know that being your First Minister has been the privilege of my life. Nothing - absolutely nothing - I do in future will ever come close.”
Who is Nicola Sturgeon?
Sturgeon has been a dominant figure in Scotland’s politics for some time, with nearly three decades on the political frontlines. She will leave office as the longest serving and first female First Minister since the creation of the Scottish Parliament, a time which saw her lead the SNP to repeated election victories at UK, Scottish and local level.
She has held the role of both First Minister and party leader for more than eight years, having taken over from Alex Salmond in November 2014 following the failed independence referendum. Sturgeon was deputy leader of the party for nearly eight years before that, and also served a number of shadow cabinet roles while the party was in opposition.
She first became a list MSP in 1999 - after the first Scottish Parliament election - but her first foray into politics was in the 1992 general election, where she unsuccessfully stood as the SNP candidate for the Glasgow-Shettleston area at just 21 years old.
Sturgeon is a qualified lawyer and has previously worked as a solicitor. She has been married to Peter Murrell - chief executive officer of the SNP - for more than a decade.
What have been some of the highlights of Sturgeon’s political career?
The SNP has been incredibly successful with Sturgeon at the helm. She guided the the party to wins in three general elections and two Holyrood elections, and party membership soared, with tens of thousands of new members signing up, the BBC reports.
Her fight for a second shot at Scotland’s independence in the wake of Brexit has also attracted praise. Sturgeon said her commitment to the cause was a big part of why she was stepping down. The longer any leader was in office, the more opinions about them became fixed, she said, “and that matters”.
“I am firmly of the view there is now majority support for independence in Scotland. But that support needs to become solidified, and it needs to grow further if our independent Scotland is to have the best possible foundation,” she said. “To achieve that we must reach across the divide in Scottish politics. My judgement now is that a new leader will be better able to do this. Someone about whom the mind of the country is not already made up - for better or worse.”
Sturgeon was widely praised as a first-rate communicator, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. As far as the polls were concerned, She handled things better than the UK Government, with reports in May 2020 suggesting more than three-quarters of Scots thought the Scottish Government had handled the crisis well, The National reports.
Just 19% of those surveyed by YouGov said the pandemic was handled badly in Scotland at that point, compared to 55% of Scots who thought Boris Johnson’s handling of Covid-19 was incompetent.
What have been some of the lows and challenges of her time as First Minister?
Despite being hailed as a strong advocate for Scotland’s independence campaign, Sturgeon recently faced criticism for her decision to brand the next UK general election a “de facto referendum”, after the Supreme Court ruled that Scottish Parliament does not have the power to hold a new referendum on Scottish independence.
In recent months, Sturgeon’s leadership has also been mired in controversy as her government sought to push through gender reforms, only for them to be blocked by the UK government. The reforms would make it easier for trans people in Scotland to obtain a gender recognition certificate.
Meanwhile the last few weeks have seen her forced to deal with the housing of transgender prisoners in women’s facilities. The debate was further thrust into the limelight after the case of Scottish trans prisoner Isla Bryson. Debate arose over where the convicted rapist would be housed following her guilty verdict.
In 2016, the SNP pledged to “substantially eliminate” the gap in educational attainment between rich and poor students within a decade. But the BBC reports the latest figures from the Scottish government suggest that it has not narrowed very much between 2016-17 and 2021-22.
A report comparing the proportion of pupils hitting literacy and numeracy targets from the most and least deprived 20% of the population found the literacy gap was 22.1 percentage points in 2016-17 and 21.3 percentage points in 2021-22, while the numeracy gap was 17.6 percentage points in 2016-17 and 17.8 percentage points in 2021-22.