I have just concluded my 286th – and final – session of First Minister’s Questions, and this is the final statement I will make in the chamber as First Minister.
No matter what I do in future, nothing will come close to the experience of the past 3,046 days.
Being First Minister of the country I love has been a profound honour.
I have led Scotland through good times, but also through the toughest period of our recent history.
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;
With those who live, still, with Long Covid;
With our young people who lost out on so many of the normal experiences of growing up;
And with everyone who endured the trauma of separation and loneliness.
Covid shaped all of us. I know it changed me and, in many ways, defined my time as First Minister.
Above all it reinforced in me an abiding admiration for the people of this 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 forever.
Being First Minister has been variously – often all at once – challenging, exhilarating and exhausting.
But every day it has been a privilege.
I have set out already my reasons for stepping down now.
I won’t repeat them today.
Suffice to say, I know this is the right time.
After 35 years in politics, 24 years in parliament, 16 in government and more than 8 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 I care deeply about – gender equality, care experienced young people, climate justice and always, until the job is done, winning Scottish independence.
And no matter how difficult change may be, I also know 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 last 8 years and, of course, there are things 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 access to higher education, with a record number of young people from backgrounds like mine now going to university.
Minimum Unit Pricing – a policy that is saving lives.
A publicly owned, mission driven, National Investment Bank.
And putting the climate emergency at the heart of all we do.
Just a few of the policies that I believe will have a lasting impact.
The Baby Box.
Free bus travel.
Record high health funding.
The Scottish Child Payment.
Record high university admissions.
A new, fairer social security system.
More progressive income tax system.
🏴 This is just some of @NicolaSturgeon's legacy.
— The SNP (@theSNP) March 23, 2023
As the first woman to hold this office, advancing gender equality has always 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.
And less tangibly perhaps, but just as important.
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 –
When women lift, girls rise.
I’ve tried as First Minister to put that into practice – I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Presiding Officer, there are countless people who have supported me along the way.
Today, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to just some of them.
Firstly, to my family. Nothing would be possible without the love and support you give me daily.
To my extended family, the SNP – the party I joined at 16 when, on a good day, we would hit 12% in the opinion polls. We’ve come such a long way, together, as a team – let’s keep going, serving Scotland, together, as a team.
To my colleagues here in Holyrood in SNP parliamentary groups past and present – and to the central office staff who support us.
To all my ministerial colleagues over the years and especially to John Swinney, the best Deputy First Minister and the best friend I could have wished for.
To our staff in Party HQ 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, and in particular, to my current team – Paul Leinster, Caroline Scott, Mhairi Hunter, Carolyn McConville, Irfan Rabbani and Nikita Bassi.
You have had my back throughout and you work tirelessly every day to help me represent the people of Glasgow Southside.
And to my constituents – thank you for putting your trust in me time and again.
To my Special Advisers – 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, Liz Lloyd and Colin McAllister.
To our partners in the Scottish Green Party, I am proud of the Bute House Agreement – thank you for joining us in government.
And to our brilliant Civil Service. Scotland is fortunate in 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 – but let me make special mention of those who have served in my Policy Unit and in my FMQ team.
The latter, especially on Wednesday evenings and Thursday mornings, really do have the worst job in government.
For the avoidance of doubt, the good answers have always been down to them. The bad have been all me.
Finally, I want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, three groups of people who – because of the nature of the jobs they do – have probably spent more time with me over these years than with their families. At least, I am sure that is how it has felt.
So, to my security team – thank you for keeping me safe.
To the wonderful Bute House staff – thank you for always making me feel at home.
And 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 – thank you for keeping me going.
Obviously I can’t name everyone, much as I’d love to – but there are a few I do want to mention.
My longest serving Principal Private Secretary, John Somers and the current incumbent, Chris Mackie.
And last – but not least – three very special people who individually and collectively have been with me for almost all of my time as First Minister.
Three people who were the core of my team during Covid, coming into the office while others stayed at home, to give me the support I needed to do my job.
Nicola Dove, Patrick Crolla and Gary McGhee.
You three will never know how much your care, kindness and humour have sustained me over these years. I am so going to miss you.
Presiding Officer, as I come to the end of my last speech here as First Minister, some final reflections.
This morning I chaired my last meeting of @scotgov Cabinet.
By my side, as he has been throughout my time as First Minister, and also taking part in his final Cabinet meeting, was @JohnSwinney.
It has been a privilege beyond words 🏴 pic.twitter.com/0mqMlxQyeZ
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) March 21, 2023
To you – I am sure 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 government to account are the hallmarks of what we do in here. That is as it should be.
But maybe, just maybe, we might enhance our democracy if, occasionally, we all treated each other with kindness too – if we remembered that we are opponents, not enemies.
And to my successor.
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 either be Scotland’s second female First Minister, or the first from a minority ethnic background.
Either way, it will send the 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 won’t get everything right. But it is always better to aim high and fall short than not try at all.
And always draw strength, energy and wisdom from the people of this wonderful country.
And so it is now to 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 convey the gratitude and awe I hold in my heart for the opportunity I have had to serve as your First Minister.
It truly has been the privilege of my lifetime.
And with those words, Presiding Office, I draw it to a close.