EUROPEAN diplomats are closely watching Nicola Sturgeon to see if she could be a suitable candidate for a future role in international affairs.

It is understood high level officials have been taking soundings about the First Minister since she last month announced her intention to step down from office. Developments are believed to be at an early stage.

Ms Sturgeon said in her Bute House resignation speech she will carry on as an SNP MSP from the backbenches at Holyrood after her replacement is elected, suggesting she intends to stay in domestic politics until at least the next Scottish Parliament election in 2026.

But there has been much speculation that in the longer term Ms Sturgeon may seek to build a career away from Scotland.

In an interview last year, the 52-year-old politician said that: “Whenever I do stop being First Minister, I’m still going to be relatively young. A life after politics doesn’t faze me…the world is my oyster.”

The Herald:

US President Joe Biden chatting to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a reception during the UN's COP26 in Glasgow in 2021.

She went on: “I look forward to the opportunity to do other interesting things after politics.”

Dr Patrick Theiner, lecturer in politics and international relations at Edinburgh University, told the Herald on Sunday he was not surprised Ms Sturgeon was being keenly viewed by diplomats in Europe for an overseas role. He thought a United Nations position would be most likely possibility.

"The United Nations looks for people who already have a fairly high global profile on certain issues. The availability of people with a high global profile and who are out recently out of a job is not terribly high," he said.

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"Special envoys or advisors to the Secretary General tend to have a role to elevate a certain issue. The UN would be looking for someone who can communicate well, who is well travelled and also already demonstrated a passion on that issue. They would be thinking is this someone already known for campaigning on a particular issue and can the UN ride the coat tails of that person?"

He said that many special envoy positions are created on an ad hoc basis and that the UN's process of approval for senior positions depended on the specific post.

Special envoys tend to be non salaried roles, usually because the person is sufficiently high profile not to require a UN salary, and can be appointed directly by the Secretary General, he said.

He added the Secretary General would consult with UN members over the appointment and would seek to get the agreement from the home member state - in Ms Sturgeon's case the UK Government.

However, there have been previously siuggestions made that the UK Government would block any UN role for Ms Sturgeon.

Dr Theiner said he believed a role could be found that could gain its backing.

"A role on climate change or women's empowerment and gender imbalance may be regarded as uncontroversial enough that it could be assumed the UK Government would be okay with it but it would also depend on Sturgeon's personal preference," he said.

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"In a special envoy role, say, the person becomes essentially a global campaigner for the specific issue. It wouldn't be hard to make a case for her to be involved in a number of global issues. Climate change, women's empowerment and gender issues are probably the top ones I can think of."

Political analyst Anthony Salamone, managing director of European Merchants, who is a member of the Europa Institute at the University of Edinburgh, was sceptical if either a Conservative or Labour UK Government would approve any UN role for Ms Sturgeon as her appointment could raise the international profile of Scottish independence.

"The obvious question is whether the UK government would nominate, support or lobby for Nicola Sturgeon to secure a senior UN role," he said.

"If the answer is negative, it is unclear why the UN Secretary-General, another UN leader or a UN body would have any motivation to ignore the wishes of the UK, which is a permanent member of the Security Council, to install one of its nationals in a UN position."

He added: "In reality, the UK government (whether Conservative or Labour) would likely be hesitant to endorse a former SNP leader for a UN post, lest it give the SNP and the independence cause greater international profile."

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Mr Salamone also questioned whether the First Minister would want a UN role as he believed it could place constraints on her from campaigning in a future independence referendum.

He said: "If a hypothetical role involved formally representing the United Nations, Nicola Sturgeon would have to abandon campaigning on or speaking about Scottish independence while in office.

"Some less familiar with British politics might argue that the UK government could be happy to see Nicola Sturgeon leave for New York, Geneva or Vienna, as a means of removing her from the independence debate."

The UN have a record in recruiting former senior government figures to roles in the organisation.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was named in 2012 by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a United Nations special envoy on global education.

Mary Robinson became the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1997 shortly after she stepped down as President of Ireland, the first woman to hold the office.

She held the High Commissioner post until 2002 and in 2016, she was named along with Macharia Kamau of Kenya as UN special envoys on El Nino and climate.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark was appointed the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme in 2009 holding the role until 2017. She served as New Zealand' Prime Minister from 1999 to 2008 and was the country's fifth-longest-serving Prime Minister and the second woman to hold the office.

Ms Sturgeon has been admired for her tenacity in keeping Scotland on the global radar.

She digressed from UK Government policy on Scotland's super sponsor scheme for refugees - allowing Ukrainians fleeing the war to list the Scottish Government as their host to obtain a UK Government Homes for Ukraine visa. The scheme, which was suspended indefinitely in July last year, has seen almost 19,000 Ukrainian refugees arrive in Scotland since war broke out a year ago, as well as a further 4,000 on named sponsors.

She has also established a network of seven "international offices" of the Scottish Government housed within British Embassy and High Commission buildings in Beijing, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin, Ottawa, Paris and Washington DC. An eighth is due to be set up in Warsaw, Poland, within this Parliament.

In 2019 Ms Sturgeon was appointed an inaugural global advocate for the UN’s “He For She” campaign, with the task of “advancing gender equality around the world”.

She had lined up the role during a visit to New York in 2017, when she made an address to the UN and pledged £1.2 million of international aid money to train 200 women from conflict zones around the world on peacekeeping and conflict resolution.

Since then, Ms Sturgeon has been a regular fixture at international conferences, raising her profile on the world stage.

During the United Nations climate change conference, COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, she was pictured with world figures including Joe Biden, Greta Thunberg, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau and Sir David Attenborough.

A range of international leaders posted messages of support to the First Minister after she announced she would be stepping down.

Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar paid tribute to Ms Sturgeon as a "very capable politician" and "warm person", while his foreign affairs minister Micheal Martin praised her "strong leadership".

Mr Varadkar said: "I always found Nicola a very warm person, articulate and thoughtful, and a very capable politician, who showed huge commitment to her country. She was also a true European. I wish Nicola and her family the very best for the future."

Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the House of Representatives in the US, said Ms Sturgeon "strongly championed the aspirations of the Scottish people", pointing to her environmental policies, as well as her strategy for welcoming Ukrainian refugees and her "special focus on gender equality in the climate fight".

The SNP and the UK Government were approached for comment.