THIS week’s best of the best from The Herald Scottish Politician of the Year ends with the most coveted award, the one which gives the event its name.

There have been 13 Scottish Politician of the Year winners since 1999, but the judges didn’t hesitate when it came to narrowing the list down to one overall champion.

With a record five wins to her name, Nicola Sturgeon was the unanimous choice. She is, the judges considered, simply a class apart.

Looking back on her record, whatis striking is the diversity of her achievements. The awards track her progress from minister, to leader, to commanding UK political figure.

Her first win was as health secretary in 2008, when she was also Debater of the Year, for the mastery of her brief through an ambulance crisis and hospital infection outbreaks, and for helping the SNP pull off a stunning Westminster by-election victory in Labour-held Glasgow East.

Four years later she won again for helping introduce the SNP’s landmark public health legislation on minimum unit pricing for alcohol, championing same-sex marriage, and being trusted with the looming referendum campaign in a reshuffle.

READ MORE: 21 years of the Herald Politician of the Year Awards: Scandals and sins

Ms Sturgeon achieved the treble in 2014, picking up her award just a few hours after being sworn in as Scotland’s first female First Minister.

Despite being gutted by defeat in the referendum, she quickly oversaw an unprecedented surge in SNP membership that would help make her first electoral test as leader a triumph.

That victory, with the SNP having 56 of Scotland’s 59 MPs, saw her become the only person to win the award more than three times in 2015.

The First Minister was also praised that year for putting closing the educational attainment gap at the top of her political agenda and promoting gender equality, while the SNP kept growing to become the UK’s third-largest party with 110,000 members.

By the time she won the award for a fifth time, in 2019, Ms Sturgeon had acquired unprecedented influence over the UK political system.

Besides winning a third SNP term in 2016, her staunch opposition to Brexit in that year’s referendum was undoubtedly a factor in Scotland voting 63 per cent to 37% to Remain in the EU. The constitutional ramifications of that result are still playing out.

Although she overplayed Indyref2 in the 2017 General Election, she was able to reinvigorate the SNP and improve its position in the 2019 poll.

She also declared a climate emergency that year, and led the SNP to its best ever result in the European elections, with the party winning half of Scotland’s six MEPs.

The judges commended her for artfully merging the case against Brexit with one in favour of independence, and fostering a sense of inevitability about Indyref2.

Her communication skills through the pandemic, her glowing popularity ratings, and the prospect of the SNP winning a second overall Holyrood majority next year, all speak to a politician of remarkable talents.

Ms Sturgeon’s predecessor was also highly commended by the judges.

Alex Salmond changed the political landscape of the UK as well as of Scotland when he took his 73-year-old party into power for the first time in 2007. They have stayed there since.

The achievement was all the more stunning given Mr Salmond had quit the SNP leadership and Holyrood, then made a daring political comeback.

READ MORE: 21 Years of the Herald Politician of the Year Awards: Community MSP

He won again in 2011 and 2013 after breaking the Proportional Representation voting system at Holyrood after the SNP won the only overall majority to date, and secured the 2014 independence referendum, largely on his terms. Although alert to his character flaws, the judges nevertheless praised his ability to make the political weather.

Also praised was former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson for leading the revival of her party after nearly two decades in the doldrums. She received the accolade in 2016 and 2017 after gains in the Holyrood, local and General Elections of those years, with her clutch of 13 MPs allowing Theresa May to stay in Downing Street.

Donald Dewar, the first of our first ministers and the category’s inaugural winner, and Sir George Reid, the presiding officer who gave Holyrood back its mojo after the ignominy of the runaway building project, were also singled out for the difference they both made to the course of devolution.