AS endorsements go, a recent poll is the biggest pat on the back Nicola Sturgeon could have hoped for. According to a survey of over 2000 voters, conducted by Panelbase, 52% want her to continue as First Minister at least until 2026. This response comes not just from SNP supporters, but from across the political spectrum. 41% of Labourites, 36 % of LibDems and 18% of Tories feel the same way.

I doubt Sturgeon is good at receiving compliments. The fray of First Minister’s Questions seems more her scene than the hubristic popping of champagne corks. Nor, as previous elections have shown, are polls as scientifically sound as pundits would wish. Nevertheless, as Miss Jean Brodie might have said, the tide is obviously running in her favour.

Despite fractious politicking and jousting, as the state of the Union is played out as a tug of war, Sturgeon has won respect across the board. There’s only one possible conclusion: she must be doing something right. Compare her stature to that of the Prime Minister, whose own party increasingly views him as a liability. He might not be Daddy Pig incarnate, but the gulf between a grown-up leader and a loose cannon who has been known to tell porkies is painfully evident.

For the past few weeks, there has been too much talk about when Sturgeon plans to leave politics. A remark in a magazine interview about thinking of her future after Holyrood led to a frenzy of piranhas snapping at her heels. It was no longer a matter of if but how soon she would depart. The odds of who will be her successor are already being calculated, but this is more a case of wishful thinking by those in the enemy camp than the need to be prepared for a sudden changing of the guard.

READ MORE: Time for Trainspotting the TV series

On countless levels, such talk is premature. At the moment, there are more grounds for discussing what Sturgeon can achieve in the coming years than wondering who will replace her. If only to please the country, she clearly should continue for another five years. But the reasons for her to stay are far more compelling than popular demand which, as few will know better than Sturgeon, is famously fickle.

At the age of 51, the First Minister is not remotely old. (She can give President Biden almost 30 years.) Understandably, foes of independence and the SNP would like nothing better than for her to depart. She is a formidable politician, and a thorn in their sides. But it is not in Scotland’s best interests for her to leave any time soon, as that poll shows.

If we were to lose her right now, it would be a terrible waste of experience and knowledge. She is a world-class politician, whose presence is a major asset for the country. That she has admitted speculating about what comes next is bad enough; even worse would be if she named a date. As soon as a leader announces the alarm clock has been set, they are a dead duck. Think of Tony Blair, when he intimated that he would not serve a full term as PM before handing over to Gordon Brown. The moment that decision was made explicit, he was as good as gone.

Uncertainty at the top engenders such instability and vulnerability it utterly undermines a government. Normal service cannot resume until the hands on the wheel are lashed in place. You see it in sport, when a football manager announces his forthcoming departure. Or in the White House. America’s political system means a president has to scramble and hustle to pass legislation in his last months in office. This renders him more sausage-machine than statesman, and leaves him diminished.

READ MORE: It's no fashion parade staying warm and dry in a Scottish winter

Yet quite apart from her relative youth, Sturgeon’s work is not done. There are several areas of unfinished business. Independence is the most obvious, although arguably not the most difficult. Judging when to hold another referendum, and putting her weight behind the campaign – to which she will be an invaluable asset – is not a task to be envied. If independence is won – or lost – during her tenure, it will leave an indelible legacy of triumph or failure on her record. But while she cannot singlehandedly persuade a nation to embrace independence, there is another arena in which she can, and must, make her mark.

It is some years now since Sturgeon staked her reputation on improving the Scottish education system. To date, the results of that gamble have at best been underwhelming, at worst, woefully lacking. The pandemic has not helped, but schools and pupils’ attainment were struggling long before Covid. In setting her sights on transforming educational outcomes, Sturgeon was untypically rash; many of the problems schools face lie outwith the control of any teacher or syllabus. Her determination to be judged by this measure, however, indicated her ambition. To abdicate before she has achieved what she set out to do would surely be like abandoning a match at half time.

There are other, less tangible ways in which her leadership is beneficial. In terms of international prestige, it can only be good for the image of a once patriarchal country to be in the hands of a woman. Like Angela Merkel, Sturgeon is an inspirational role model for young women considering entering politics or any high office.

Her leadership, post-Brexit and during the pandemic, has been characterised by maturity. Not all her decisions have been good or wise, but her steady demeanour, grasp of essentials, commitment and stamina, have been impressive.

In the wake of the Alex Salmond debacle, there is also a sense of a fresh start. With the appointment of a new head of the Civil Service, and polls predicting a resounding SNP victory at the next Holyrood elections, it feels as if the future might hold as much promise as threat. That said, there are huge problems – drug abuse high among them – that need her full attention.

If Sturgeon feels weary at the prospect of more years at the helm, she should remember that there are seven ages of man – and woman – and she has only just reached the fifth.


We want to bring you the best The Herald has to offer every day.

For just £2 for two months, you can instantly read your favourite writers.

When you head over to our subscriptions page you’ll see three options:

•             Our Premium subscription, for £1.75 per week

•             Our Premium Plus subscription, for less than £2.50 per week

•             Our Print Only subscription, which could save you 25% if you enjoy buying the paper.

Our special offer can be found under the “Premium Plus” plan under the option of £2 for two months, then £9.99 monthly afterwards if you decide to stay with us.

Subscribe to The Herald and don't miss a single word from your favourite writers by clicking here

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Herald.