Time for a leader to heal divided nation - Scotsman comment

It is often said that all political careers end in failure. Despite her impressive haul of emphatic election victories, this adage holds true for Nicola Sturgeon. As she prepares to leave Bute House, what is Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister’s legacy?

Announcing her intention to resign, Ms Sturgeon pointed to the fact there are more powers devolved to Holyrood than before. Yet the devolution of powers over income tax and welfare was a result of the Smith Commission, set up to honour “the vow” made by the No camp in the last days of campaigning for the 2014 referendum.

On independence, the needle has barely shifted. If anything, as a bitter leadership contest lays bare intractable differences within the nationalist movement, it seems more distant than at any point since Ms Sturgeon succeeded Alex Salmond.

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Ms Sturgeon predicted the contest to find her replacement would showcase the depth of talent within the SNP ranks. And yet only three candidates have come forward, none of whom could claim to enjoy broad popular appeal.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon waits on a lift at the Scottish Parliament in EdinburghFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon waits on a lift at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon waits on a lift at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

Humza Yousaf is clearly the continuity candidate, favoured by Ms Sturgeon and senior ministers, but a poll at the weekend put him behind Kate Forbes in the leadership race. He has gained an unenviable reputation for incompetence as transport minister, justice minister and now health minister.

In contrast, during her brief tenure as finance secretary Ms Forbes has appeared deft and capable. Yet the Free Church of Scotland member’s views on gay marriage and birth outside wedlock are out of kilter with the electorate.

Ash Regan, who resigned as a minister over Ms Sturgeon’s controversial Gender Recognition Reform Bill, is the outsider. She has apparently abandoned the prospect of achieving independence through a referendum. Instead, she would seek to open negotiations for secession after a vote of 50 per cent plus one for nationalist parties in a Scottish or UK election.

SNP members electing the new First Minister could hardly be described as spoilt for choice. For the rest of us, we can only hope they install a leader who will go at least some way towards healing the divisions that have opened and become so entrenched under the tenures of the previous two incumbents.



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