Nicola Sturgeon appealed "for a more mature political debate" as she defended her legacy during her first speech to Holyrood since her resignation as First Minister almost six months ago.

She also appeared to seek cross party support to increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament in her short address to MSPs this afternoon.

During her speech she hailed her successor Humza Yousaf's Programme for Government, unveiled yesterday, in which he said his mission was to tackle poverty by growing the economy.

"I enthusiastically commend it. I can’t claim to be objective but it strikes a good balance between building on progress and breaking new ground," she said.

READ MORE: Can Humza Yousaf’s first Programme for Government bring unity to SNP?

"Much has been said about the importance of the economy. It is self-evident that there can be no strong society without a strong economy."

But she appeared to seek a tone of consensus when she suggested a shift was needed on how political debate was conducted in Holyrood - though admitted she may have some responsibility for the current state of discourse.

"I want to conclude with a word, not so much on what we do here but on how we do it," she said.

"Before I do, let me say that I accept my share of responsibility for the state of our political discourse. But if anything that makes me more determined to play a part in trying to change it."

READ MORE: Poll: Nicola Sturgeon's popularity crashes amid police probe into SNP

She added: "Polarisation in politics is much maligned. It is the paralysis of action it results in that should worry us most. So, as we embark on a new term, perhaps we would benefit from some principles to guide us.

"First, a collective recognition that the challenges we face on inequality, climate, sustainable growth demand tough decisions. These are by definition hard, often unpopular and will meet resistance from those who benefit from the status quo. That’s not an argument for ignoring those voices – but for making sure they don’t become an automatic veto on change that is necessary.

"Second, an acceptance that we can’t just wish for the ends on any policy change, we must also have the means to deliver. We need more mature debate on how we pay for our policies, and also on the powers this Parliament has. 

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf accused of picking workers' pockets as tax rises loom

"I want this parliament to be independent and believe it soon will be. I don't believe I am creating news with that statement. But that won’t stop me arguing for a more incremental expansion of our powers along the way. Likewise, those who oppose independence shouldn’t close the door to new powers now that can better help us tackle the challenges we face."

She concluded: "Finally, disagreement is the essence of democracy. It is part of what makes us human. But it is up to us what dynamic that disagreement creates. Acrimony and stalemate? Or creative tension, based on civility and respect, that allows us to drive improvement for all. I hope the coming term is characterised more by the latter than the former. If so Scotland will be the winner." 

The last time Ms Sturgeon spoke was on March 23 at FMQs and then gave a personal statement before leaving the chamber for the final time as head of the government.

In many ways her departure from office seemed like an age away when she rose to her feet at just before 3.40pm such have been the seismic events that have rocked Scottish politics and her own party in that relatively short period.

The Herald:

Nicola Sturgeon at her Bute House press conference in February this year when she announced she would be standing down as First Minister and SNP leader.  Photo PA.

Since the last time she addressed the Scottish Parliament she and her husband Peter Murrell arrested in connection with a long running police investigation into SNP's finances and a high profile search of the couple's home near Glasgow.

We have also witnessed the arrest of her party's former treasurer Colin Beattie, with all three figures released without charge pending further inquiries as well as a broader questions over how the party handled its accounts while she was leader.

Many of the policies of her own government have been pushed into the long grass and by the very man seen as her preferred successor to carry on her mantle.

Since becoming FM in March Mr Yousaf has shelved her government's deposit return scheme, the introduction of new marine protection zones, plans to ban alcohol advertising, reviewed proposals for a national care service and - and in June - abandoned plans to use the next general election as a de facto referendum.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf: wealth tax possible due to pressure on public finances

And of course, since her departure from office and the subsequent events that have followed her own popularity has plummeted among Scots.

There was no mention of the SNP's troubles - or any personal turmoil - during the months since March when she addressed MSPs today.

"This is my first speech in parliament since stepping down as FM, and the first PFG in 17 years that I’ve not been involved in as either FM or DFM. To say that my perspective on politics has altered would be an understatement.

"Certain things look different – perhaps clearer - from here than from the trenches of the political frontline," she said.

She commended her successor - who was not present in the chamber - "for keeping the mission for a fairer society, where everyone can contribute to and benefit from the fruits of the economy, very much in vision" as she defended her own legacy citing her own introduction of the Scottish Child Payment.

The Herald: Nicola Sturgeon addresses the media on Tuesday

Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks to the media on her return to the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh, following her arrest in the police investigation into the SNP's finances. Picture date: Tuesday June 20, 2023. Jane Barlow/PA Wire.

"The economy won’t flourish when systemic barriers prevent people accessing the labour market – especially when lack of population growth is one of our biggest challenges – or when poverty robs too many of opportunity and fulfilment," she said.

"I am proud of the doubling of early years education and childcare – a vitally important infrastructure project - and the establishment of the Scottish Child Payment. These deliver immediate benefits – especially to the 90,000 children being lifted out of poverty – but the real value will be long term.

READ MORE: Northern Ireland provides a warning for Scotland about polarisation

"In this vein, I welcome plans to further expand childcare The pilot announced yesterday is a sensible approach but one that I hope will lead to mainstreamed provision.

"I also want to mention The Promise, a mission close to my heart. As in so many areas, there is a need to make up for time lost to the pandemic and so I applaud the focus that a new Cabinet subcommittee will bring.

"Though The Promise is about improving the lives of young people in care, we should remember that it is also about supporting families better so that fewer young people need to go into care in the first place. To that end, I look forward to hearing about progress in financing and implementing the critically important Whole Family Wellbeing Fund."

She also dedicated part of her speech to climate change and action to accelerate the green transition which she said is "not just essential to safeguarding the planet and building a fairer society, but also the most important opportunity we have to achieve sustainable economic growth". 

"I welcome plans to take forward recommendations from the Investor Panel that I established towards the end of my time in office," she said.

"Moving away from fossil fuels does not mean turning off the North Sea taps overnight as some mischaracterise. But turning on new taps – and the FM was right to criticise the UKG approach yesterday – will make at best a marginal difference to the life span of the North Sea, but come with a heavy cost to the environment and to the focus we need on building renewables instead.

"That is in no-one’s interests, least of all those who work in oil and gas who need more than anyone to see the green jobs transition happen at pace.

"Lastly on climate. I look forward to seeing Scotland's world leading commitments on financing for the loss and damage already suffered by the global south taken forward."

MSPs later backed the action on equality taken by the Scottish Government in the Programme for Government.

A motion in the name of Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville passed by 68 votes to 54. Tory and Labour amendments fell.