First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

I have just concluded my 286th and final session of First Minister’s question time, and this is the final statement that I will make in the chamber as First Minister. No matter what I do in the future, nothing—absolutely nothing—will come close to the experience of the past 3,046 days. Being First Minister of the country that I love has been a profound honour. I have led Scotland through good times, but also through the toughest period of our recent history.

Exactly three years ago today, I stood at a podium in St Andrew’s house and asked the country to stay at home. My thoughts today, and always, are with those who lost loved ones to Covid, those who still live with long Covid, our young people who lost out on so many of the normal experiences of growing up and everyone who endured the trauma of separation and loneliness.

Covid shaped all of us. I know that it changed me, and, in many ways, it defined my time as First Minister. Above all, it reinforced in me an abiding admiration for the people of this wonderful country, who made such painful sacrifices to keep each other safe. In the toughest of times, our country showed the best of itself with love, care and solidarity. That will live with me for ever.

Being First Minister has been, variously and often all at once, challenging, exhilarating and exhausting but, every day without exception, it has been an utter privilege. I have already set out my reasons for stepping down now; I will not repeat them today. Suffice it to say that I know in my heart that this is the right time.

After more than 35 years in politics, 24 years in the Parliament, 16 years in the Government and more than eight years as First Minister, it is time for Nicola Sturgeon the politician to make a bit of space for Nicola Sturgeon the person. It is time for me to contribute, in a different capacity, to the causes that I care so deeply about: gender equality, care-experienced young people, climate justice and always, until the job is done, winning Scottish independence. No matter how difficult change may be, I know also that it is right for my party, the Government and our country that I now make way for a new generation of leadership.

I have made my fair share of mistakes in the past eight years and, of course, there are things that I wish I had done better or differently but, overall and overwhelmingly, I am proud of what has been achieved. The doubling of early years education and childcare, the Scottish child payment, widening of access to higher education with a record number of young people from backgrounds like mine now going to university, minimum unit pricing for alcohol—a policy that is saving lives—a publicly owned and mission-driven national investment bank and putting the climate emergency at the heart of all that we do are just a few of the many policies that I believe will have a lasting impact on our country.

As the first woman to hold this office, advancing gender equality has also been close to my heart. My Cabinet has always been gender balanced. This Parliament legislated for free period products and strengthened the law on domestic abuse. Less tangible, perhaps, but just as important, is that no girl in our country now has any doubt that a woman can hold the highest office in the land. I heard a phrase the other day that struck a chord with me: “When women lift, girls rise.” As First Minister, I have tried to put that into practice, and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

Presiding Officer, countless people have supported me along the way. Today, I will say a heartfelt “Thank you” to just some of them. First, I thank my family. Nothing—absolutely nothing—would be possible without the love and support that you give me, daily.

I thank my extended family, the Scottish National Party—the party that I joined at 16, when, on a good day, we would hit 12 per cent in the opinion polls. We have come such a long way together as a team; let us keep going, serving Scotland together, as a team.

I thank my colleagues here, in Holyrood, in SNP parliamentary groups past and present; the central office staff who support us; all my ministerial colleagues over the years—especially John Swinney, who is the best Deputy First Minister and the best friend that I could have wished for on this journey; and our staff in party headquarters, who have built a formidable campaign operation, enabling us to win 14 national elections since 2007.

To all those who have worked in my constituency office—in particular, to my current team, Paul Leinster, Caroline Scott, Mhairi Hunter, Carolyn McConville, Irfan Rabbani and Nikita Bassi—I say that you have had my back throughout, and you work tirelessly, every single day, to help me to represent the people of Glasgow Southside.

To my constituency party and to my constituents I say thank you so much for putting your trust in me, time and again.

To my special advisers I say that you have given your all to me and to the cause of building a better country. You have been led by two outstanding chiefs of staff in Liz Lloyd and Colin McAllister.

To our partners in the Scottish Green Party I say that I am very proud of the Bute house agreement. Thank you for joining us in Government.

I thank our brilliant civil service. Scotland is so fortunate in having the integrity, impartiality and professionalism of our civil servants, and I am privileged to have been served by some of the very best. I thank each and every one. However, I make special mention of those who have served in my policy unit and in my First Minister’s questions team. The latter, especially on Wednesday evenings and Thursday mornings, really do have the worst job in the Government. For the avoidance of doubt, Presiding Officer, I point out that the good answers have always been down to them; the bad have been all me.

Finally, I thank from the bottom of my heart three groups of people who, because of the nature of the jobs that they do, have probably spent more time with me over the years than they have with their families—at least, I am sure that that is how it has felt. To my security team I say thank you for keeping me safe. To the wonderful Bute house staff I say thank you for always making me feel at home. To every private secretary, diary secretary, correspondence secretary, to the visits and events team, to the communications and camera teams—to everyone in my private office who has supported me over 16 years in Government—I say thank you for keeping me going. Obviously, I cannot name everyone, much as I would love to, but I want to mention a few: my longest-serving principal private secretary, John Somers, and the current incumbent, Chris Mackie.

Last but not least are three very special people who, individually and collectively, have been with me for almost all my time as First Minister. They were the core of my team during Covid, coming into the office while others stayed at home to give me the support that I needed to do my job. They are Nicola Dove, Patrick Crolla and Gary McGhee. You three will never know how much your care, kindness and humour has sustained me over these years, and I am so going to miss you.

Presiding Officer, as I come to the end of my last speech as First Minister, I have some final reflections. To you I say that I am sure that you are hoping for a new First Minister whose answers on a Thursday lunchtime are not quite as long winded as mine. Thank you for your patience.

To my colleagues across the chamber: robust debate and holding the Government to account are the hallmarks of what we do here. That is as it should be. I thank those in the other parties for that. However, just maybe, we might enhance our democracy if, occasionally, we—all of us—treated each other with kindness, too, and remembered that we are opponents, not enemies.

To my successor, I say this. Next week, we will find out whose portrait will go alongside mine on the stairwell of Bute house. Subject to this chamber’s approval, it will be either Scotland’s second female First Minister or its first from a minority ethnic background. Either way, that will send the very powerful message that this, the highest office in the land, is one that any young person in Scotland can aspire to.

Never forget that every day in this office is an opportunity to make something better for someone, somewhere in Scotland. Do not shy away from the big challenges or difficult debates. You will not get everything right, but it is always better to aim high and fall short than not to try at all. Always draw strength, energy and wisdom from the people of this wonderful country.

It is for the people of Scotland—all of you, whether you voted for me or not—that I reserve my final words from this seat. Thank you so much for placing your trust in me. Words will never adequately convey the gratitude and the awe that I hold in my heart for the opportunity that I have had to serve as your First Minister. It truly has been the privilege of my lifetime—and with those words, Presiding Officer, I draw it to a close.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

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