Speaking at the SNP's campaign conference and in an apparent dig at former first minister Alex Salmond, Ms Sturgeon said the pandemic had made her reassess her attitude towards a lot of things, including politics.
She also hinted that she dismissed leadership popularity polls, saying she did not have “much time for the ‘who’s up/who’s down’ approach” as she told supporters the party was ready to “put our case to the country” for independence.
A recent Savanta Comres poll for The Scotsman showed trust in Ms Sturgeon continues to decline amid her public battle with Mr Salmond – who on Friday launched his new pro-independence Alba Party – and the continued success of the vaccine rollout.
The First Minister’s comments came as she announced that her party would double the Scottish Child Payment to £20 a week for low-income families, if elected in May – and would provide bridging payments worth £520 a year during 2022, with the full annual payment of £520 being paid in four quarterly instalments.
She said: “The last year has tested me on so many levels – as I know it has everyone else. It has made me reflect on what really matters in life – and on what matters in politics and political leadership too.
“And in politics, things that once seemed desperately important feel so much less so now. I don’t have much time these days for the ‘who’s up/who’s down’ approach to politics. And I definitely have much less patience for those who treat politics like a game – and for indulging anyone who puts self interest ahead of the country’s best interests.”
According to the latest poll conducted by Savanta ComRes for The Scotsman earlier this month, the First Minister’s personal approval ratings were down by 11 per cent when compared to the first poll in this series in December.
Mr Salmond’s party, which has attracted the defection of a number of SNP politicians, including former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, is to field candidates for the list across the country in a bid to create a “super majority” for independence.
Ms Sturgeon pledged that higher education would remain free for Scots while the SNP was in power and vowed to end child poverty.
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Nicola Sturgeon isn’t interested in the priorities of the Scottish people. It’s clear that she wants to use every single vote for the SNP as an excuse to divide Scotland.“She claimed education was her defining mission, but the reality is it’s just an afterthought to her. We are stronger together as part of the UK and all politicians have a duty to focus on bringing people together as we recover from the pandemic.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “I welcome much of what the First Minister has announced today, particularly the announcements that were already Scottish Labour policy.
“But it is one thing to say that fighting child poverty will be your ‘national mission’ when you are new to government - the SNP has been in power for 14 years and the First Minister has led the country for 7 years.
“Nicola Sturgeon has presided over a quarter of our children living in poverty and in her own constituency almost half of children live in poverty. That is a record of shame and, frankly, Scotland deserves better. It’s disappointing that the First Minister’s focus on national recovery is compromised by her continued blind-spot on the constitution.
Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign chair Alistair Carmichael MP said: “Nicola Sturgeon has had some well documented failures of memory recently but even she must remember the way in which the last independence referendum completely occupied the bandwidth of the Scottish government in the run up to 2014.
"Every single civil servant who is working on an independence bill is one who could be working on the recovery from the pandemic so for the First Minister to claim that "Independence is not a distraction" is clearly baloney."
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s conference speech ultimately all came down to one single issue – the SNP’s obsession with another divisive independence referendum.
“When all our focus should be on rebuilding Scotland, the SNP are intent on dividing Scotland all over again.”
Finance secretary Kate Forbes has pledged that a re-elected SNP Government will scrap council tax charges for under-22s, if the party is re-elected.