Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
John Crace

And it’s goodbye from her: an emotional Nicola Sturgeon quits the stage

Some rage against the dying of the light. Boris Johnson is howling into the wind. Crying out for meaning, begging for attention. Anything but be forgotten. But his time is up. All that remains for him is life as another old curiosity on the after-dinner speaking circuit. A job he hates almost as much as he hates himself for doing it. He despises the people – the little people – to whom he is obliged to talk. Most of whom only listen with one ear open at best. He is the amuse-bouche entertainer who has backed himself into a narcissistic cul-de-sac.

Others, though, leave the political stage at a time of their own choosing. On their own terms. Just over a month ago, Nicola Sturgeon surprised even her closest allies by announcing she was standing down as leader of the SNP. Some bits of her resignation statement didn’t quite make sense. She claimed her party was in good health and never nearer to achieving independence. In which case why walk away now? But the other, more personal stuff, felt real. She had had enough. Her entire adult life devoted to frontline politics. She just wasn’t feeling it so much any more. She wanted more Nicola time.

That time has almost come. On Thursday Sturgeon took her 286th and final first minister’s questions in the Scottish parliament. Of her three possible successors, only the heir apparent, Humza Yousaf was in attendance. He kept a low profile: this was Nicola’s day. Kate Forbes is still on maternity leave. Ash Regan was nowhere to be seen. There again, she always has been an outlier in the leadership race. Disliked almost as much inside the SNP as she is outside it.

Sturgeon looked as if she was struggling to contain her emotions. This was quite a moment. A tectonic shift in Scottish politics. Nicola might not be regarded quite so highly inside Scotland as she often is outside. The Scots are less tolerant of the SNP’s shortcomings in government. South of the border, she appears somehow more significant. Especially when compared with the likes of David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. And even her opponents have to admit that hers is a rare political career that isn’t ending in abject failure. Most leaders would kill to win eight elections on the bounce.

The Tory leader, Douglas Ross, appeared hellbent on living down to the occasion. Not even an acknowledgment of an adversary who had achieved far more than he ever would. No memento mori. Just a straight attack on Sturgeon and the SNP for lying about losing 30,000 members and then trying to cover it up.

Repeating the claims that Forbes and Regan had been making at the leadership hustings. That the SNP leadership had become mediocre and incompetent. Maybe they should have thought that one through a bit before serving up some easy attack lines to the opposition. He ended by quoting a Scottish government report published on Thursday that criticised Sturgeon for costing the country millions over a ferry contract. Just what Nicola needed on her last day.

Sturgeon looked a bit peeved that Ross hadn’t done more to mark her last FMQs and went on the attack herself. How many members did the Scottish Tories have? Could you fit them all into a small room? And how many elections had he won? And which annoying little Dougie were we seeing today? The one who had backed Sunak? The one who had backed Truss? The one who had backed Johnson? Or the one who had flip-flopped between the three? Such a man of principle.

Labour’s Anas Sarwar was altogether more gracious. Able to separate the personal from the politics and appreciate the hard work and effort Sturgeon had put into running the country. Even if he hadn’t agreed with everything she had done. Then he rather went through the motions – politics by numbers – and sat down. Now was not a time for point scoring. More a time of truce. The real work could resume again in a week’s time when the new leader was in place.

Come the end of FMQs, there was a 30-minute slot for valedictory speeches. Sturgeon used hers to praise Scotland’s efforts during the Covid crisis, say it was the honour of her life to have been first minister – nothing in the future would ever come close – and to thank family, friends and fellow Scots. She didn’t mention her husband, Peter Murrell, by name. Best not. He was implicated in the membership cover-up. At times she looked close to tears.

Ross merely went low again. Damning Sturgeon with faint praise. She had always governed in her party’s interest rather than the country. A cheek considering the Tories had crashed the UK economy as part of a vanity project. It was crass. Shabby. Then no more than anyone expected from him. Dougie is just another Tory leader soon to be heading for the exit. Though at least he will have £100 to take with him. He had a bet with Sturgeon on who would be first to quit.

Only a few Tories applauded Ross’s speech. Too much even for them. The SNP just sat stony-faced as attention switched to other speakers. Once they were finished, Sturgeon picked up her files, concentrated on keeping her emotions in check and headed for the exit. She’s going to be a tough act to follow.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.