Nicola Sturgeon: Why history will not be kind to departing First Minister – Kenny MacAskill

It wasn’t the going but the speed which was the surprise. There was no way that Nicola Sturgeon was going to lead the SNP into the next election as the gender recognition issue was the least of her worries.

Judge me on education, she said on becoming First Minister, and that created the first but by no means the hardest of questions about her record she’d have to answer. And the focus on the domestic Scottish agenda will be relentless at the next Westminster election. She was always going to bail before then.

Similarly, the “de facto referendum” – conjured up as a fallback for the cardinal folly of a self-inflicted defeat in the Supreme Court – is unraveling by the day. Whether it’s binned entirely or refined to avoid an outright repudiation, the coming SNP conference will decide. But it again exposed a lack of strategy and the running out of road for the cans she’d been kicking relentlessly on.

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Of course, she’s a political debater and government communicator par excellence. You can’t win that many elections or survive in office without being fleet of foot and highly capable. Of that, there’s no doubt.

Nicola Sturgeon faced mounting criticism of her track record in government (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)Nicola Sturgeon faced mounting criticism of her track record in government (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)
Nicola Sturgeon faced mounting criticism of her track record in government (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)

Her briefings during Covid were clear and reassuring for many, even if there’s legitimate questions as to why she had to do all of them. Her presence was dignified and calm, in comparison to the buffoonery of the then Prime Minister. Some positive perceptions will remain, and she’s earned them.

But what future inquiries will make of events in care homes and other aspects, time will tell. That might well be a microcosm of a wider analysis of her tenure. Baby boxes and other welcome but limited announcements will be superseded by a deeper analysis of the big ticket items in government – health, the economy and education – and her strategy for independence. A great short-term tactician but a very poor long-term strategist.

History will not be kind to Nicola Sturgeon. As a reflection and assessment begin, a deeper analysis will replace the photo shot or sound bite. That’ll change the narrative, and much will be harsh.

She may claim that it’s because it’s history not ‘herstory’. But it’ll be nothing to do with misogyny but because, too often, it was just Her Story. From the rockstar meetings at the beginning where her husband and party chief executive acted as promoter, through the ever-increasing tightening of control, to the situation she’s bequeathed of a centralised party and a government of yes people, if not sycophants.

That there’s no agreed successor’s also a sign of failure. Part of leadership’s to have a plan in case you go under a bus, not just when you step down. But it was all about her and nothing else could be countenanced. Ironically, that may now be an opportunity. As her inner circle scramble to rally round Humza Yousaf, others from outwith the magic circle can speak to the wider party.

That her husband still remains in senior party office is astonishing, but he’ll be gone soon and what might be exposed could add further tarnish. Talented and hugely able but devoid of vision and fearful of opposition, Nicola Sturgeon could and should have achieved so much more.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian



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