Gareth Roberts Gareth Roberts

The sad truth about ‘saint’ Nicola Sturgeon

Don't be fooled by the ex-first minister's reinvention

Nicola Sturgeon has finally come clean: ‘I was part of the problem,’ Scotland’s former first minister has admitted, referring to the ‘trans rows’ that dogged the late stages of her time as First Minister. What’s this? Is this, at last, a frank admission of fallibility and regret from Sturgeon? A reflection on her own flaws? No, of course it isn’t.

The sainted Sturgeon stepped down, by her own account, because politics in Scotland is ‘pretty polarised’. ‘There’s no one in Scotland who doesn’t have an opinion about me, whether good or bad,’ she told the Charleston Literary Festival in Sussex, as if this was anything out of the ordinary for the political leader of a country. If she only worked that out eight years into the job I suspect she might not have been cut out for it.  

‘It felt as if (with) every issue, people were coming at that issue in terms of how they thought about me – that felt true on the trans issue, it felt true on a number of issues – so I thought, well, if I take myself out of that maybe the politics, the discourse and the debate in Scotland will be a bit more healthy.’ This is classic Sturgeon, a textbook example of making absolutely everything about herself. Other people don’t have reasonable objections to a policy: they just don’t like her.  

When politicians step back from the frontline some humanity is usually revealed. A move out of office – with all its necessary fudging, bluffing and plate-spinning – means that you’d expect a part of the ordinary person behind the job to emerge. This is how a few extremely divisive figures, after a decent interval, became almost loveable. Tony Benn packed them in on his speaking tours, and often his audiences were the kind of people who despised him during the period when he was busy bankrupting the nation. Michael Portillo the train lover is unrecognisable now as the blood-and-thunder speechifier of the 1995 Tory conference.   

Sturgeon is trying the same route but at an ungainly speed. She is attempting to reinvent herself as a literary pundit and sage elder stateswoman before her legacy has had a chance of fading from the public consciousness.  

At Charleston, she was interviewed by writer Juno Dawson, a man who claims to be a woman, and so the conversation naturally turned to gender. ‘I’ve had more abuse hurled at me over the issue of trans rights than probably any other issue I’ve discussed, including Scottish independence probably, so it has been really, really difficult,’ she told Dawson, taking the opportunity to restate that ‘trans women are women’ and that ‘people should be able to live how they want to be’. I think what she means here is that men should be allowed to assume the rights of women at their whim, but that doesn’t sound quite so reasonable, does it?  

But, as ever, nothing is Sturgeon’s fault. She is the embodiment of sweet reason. Anyone that opposes her is a monster of some kind. We shouldn’t forget what happened under Sturgeon’s watch. At the height of the gender storm back in 2023, she said of some of those opposed to gender self-ID: ‘There are people who have opposed this Bill that cloak themselves in women’s rights to make it acceptable, but just as they’re transphobic you’ll also find that they’re deeply misogynist, often homophobic, possibly some of them racist as well.’

It was an awful comment. Yet even now, after the disaster of her self-ID gender legislation, she is blind to a major part of what brought her down (and after gender brought similar doom to her successor). Sturgeon has made no attempt to explain or justify her gender policy or properly persuade opponents without denouncing them. Any objections were simply ‘not valid’. This is the response of a meter in a car park, not a human being.

At another recent event, Sturgeon opined that debates on the gender issue ‘descend into the most vicious, toxic rammy, with bad faith arguments all over the place’. She suggested – with absolutely no evidence – that bringing in same-sex marriage legislation would now be much more difficult. Sturgeon seems to think that reclassifying men as women was just the obvious next step on the shining progressive path. This is patent nonsense, conflating totally different issues. It’s like saying ‘these people who object to HS2 want to bring back hanging!’ It is in staggeringly bad faith.  

This rejection of any opposing view is politically inane and psychologically infantile. Most of us learn to get what we want by engaging with the rest of the world. Despite her bizarre reputation as a good politician – or at least good at winning elections for a while, which is the most a politician can hope for – Sturgeon remains arrogant and contemptuous.

It never seems to have occurred to Sturgeon to stop and think about why people were objecting to her gender policies, even when those doing so were overwhelmingly women and overwhelmingly of the socially liberal wing who should have been her natural supporters. Instead, she decided they were a bad lot, and probably all racists. That response is logical only if you think you are a saint.  

We can only expect more of this insufferable air of outraged innocence from the Sturgeon Show. Expecting honest reflection from her is like expecting a statue to do the cha-cha-cha.