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A reaction to Nicola Sturgeon's resignation | Alex Burnett MSP


It comes as a bit of a surprise, the timing of the thing. But not that it has happened.


An able politician, yes. The best that the SNP had to offer, undoubtedly. But above all, Nicola Sturgeon is finely attuned to the media news cycle, when to time a press conference or photo opportunity, and she has always been good at deflecting the blame. Today we saw a little bit of all of those.


Despite those gifts, her eight years as First Minister is coming to a close, and with undue haste.


Sturgeon had planned to fight the next general election as a de facto referendum on Scottish independence, but her going raises questions about the future of the SNP/Green indy obsession. This decision was based on "a deeper and longer-term assessment." Perhaps it is the case, in line with recent polls, that Scots do not want the snake oil of Scottish independence. They just want both our governments to work collaboratively for everyone's benefit.


The reality is, Nicola Sturgeon has never been on a weaker footing as First Minister: her party hopelessly divided over a gender recognition reform bill that was rushed through the Scottish Parliament ignoring women's concerns for their safety. An open revolt over the way in which women's and girls' safety was considered secondary to rapid changes in how self-ID is handled.


And Sturgeon's own rancour for those women and party followers who didn't share her own feelings about the changes. There was the case of Isla Bryson, who as Adam Graham committed terrible crimes before changing gender, in an attempt to avoid going into a men's prison. This showed exactly why women and Scottish Conservative politicians were entirely correct to highlight problems with the legislation.


But this is not the first time that the SNP have been responsible for well-intentioned policy gone bad - Named Person, the Hate Crime Bill, smoke alarms, and latterly the Deposit Return Scheme - all deserve honourable mentions in the Nats' hall of infamy.


The immolation of Ian Blackford as leader of the SNP at the House of Commons was something of a barometer for the party's internal pressures. Having survived months of criticism over his awful handling of disciplinary problems, including some troubling treatment of young staffers, he abruptly pulled the plug on his post when the coast was seemingly clear.


In his place came Stephen Flynn - perhaps seen a new broom to reform the parliamentary party, but another SNP politician to criticise the "de facto referendum". And in no way the public speaker his predecessor was (in the way a speaker can sometimes clear the floor at a party).


And then an attempt to resurrect those Covid briefings over the last several weeks - impromptu press conferences which send journalists into a clamour and focus all the attention on Bute House. But much like those briefings turned out, the allure was somewhat greater than the reality - railing against the Tories, the UK Government, the levers without independence. The words sometimes change but the tune remains the same.


The publication of tax returns as some kind of diversionary tactic, seven years too late. Another puzzling press conference. Troubling questions she refused to answer or didn't recall the answers to.


The missing £600,000 of campaign funds, a six-figure loan her husband didn't tell Ms Sturgeon about. In real time, you could see the Covid "bounce" from near-daily pronouncements on TV had become speed bumps.


So what now? For the Holyrood party, an election for the new leader, obviously. More on that soon when we find out who's throwing their hat into the ring (early indications are that it's a small and shallow ring). But for our previous FM?


Ms Sturgeon has had to kill her own idols - the echoing gulf left between her and her former mentor and closest ally Alex Salmond is just as yawning now. Like Salmond when he tried to pull the reins on independence away with his Alba party, she will now unfailingly be seen as some kind of king or queenmaker in the selection of her replacement, an eminence grise in the wings.


Like Fergus Ewing, a former minister who only found his voice and constituents on his valedictory lap of Holyrood, it may be that the former FM will find it entirely too difficult to avoid tangling with her successor.


She will now "return" to being a constituency MSP and will represent the people of Glasgow Southside. She will perhaps emerge into the realities of what SNP Scotland has wrought on many of Scotland's most vulnerable people - rats in the streets, shredded public services, social care poised for yet more centralisation, and an attainment gap that has only got worse under her aegis.


It would be a real shame to see Ms Sturgeon reduced, at FMQs, to serving up those softball questions to government that make everyone wince. About a reserved matter, Brexit, or why Scottish independence is the panacea for everything from low GDP to halitosis. But no one ever heard of a snake oil seller going into retirement.

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