NICOLA Sturgeon has urged her successor not to "shy away from the big challenges or difficult debates."

In an emotional final Holyrood speech as First Minister, the outgoing SNP leader said she knew in her heart that now was the right time to stand down. 

The Herald is only £1 for three months.
This offer ends TONIGHT so click here and don't miss out!

“It is time for Nicola Sturgeon the politician to make a bit of space for Nicola Sturgeon the person," she told MSPs.

She said it was right for the country and her party to make way for a “new generation of leadership.”

READ MORE: Leitch admits Covid patient transfers to care homes 'caused harm'

Ms Sturgeon admitted that she had made her “fair share of mistakes” over the past eight years and said there were things that she wished she had done “better or differently.”

She told MSPs that “absolutely nothing will come close to the experience of the past 3,046 days.” 

“Being First Minister of the country I love has been a profound honour. I have led Scotland through good times, but also through the toughest period of recent history. 

“Exactly three years ago today, I stood at a podium in St Andrew's house, and I asked the country to stay at home. 

“My thoughts today and always are with those who lost loved ones to Covid, those who live still with long Covid, with our young people who lost out on so many of the normal experiences of growing up, and with everyone who endured the trauma of separation and loneliness.

“Covid shaped all of us, I know that it changed me, and in many ways, it defined my time as First Minister. 

“Above all, it reinforced in me, an abiding admiration for the people of this wonderful country, who made such painful sacrifices to keep each other safe. 

“In the toughest of times, our country showed the best of itself with love, care, and solidarity, and that will live with me forever.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “I know in my heart that this is the right time. After more than 35 years in politics, 24 years in this Parliament, 16 years in government, and more than eight years as First Minister, it is time for Nicola Sturgeon the politician to make a bit of space for Nicola Sturgeon the person.”

She said it was time for her to “contribute in a different capacity to the causes I care so deeply about, gender equality, care experienced young people, climate justice, and always until the job is done, winning Scottish independence.

“No matter how difficult change may be, I know also that it is right for my party, the government and our country that I know make was for the new generation of leadership.”

READ MORE: Quarter of all Scotland’s children are living in relative poverty

She said the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment and the minimum unit pricing for alcohol were some of her proudest achievements in office.

But she also said that just by becoming First Minister, “no girl in our country now has any doubt that a woman can hold the highest office in the land”

“I heard the phrase the other day that really struck a chord with me when women lift, girl’s rise. I've tried as First Minister to put that into practice and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.”

She paid tribute to her family, to her staff, the civil service and ministerial colleagues, including John Swinney, “the best Deputy First Minister and the best friend I could have wished for on this journey.”

The First Minister also singled out the Scottish Greens for thanks, saying she was “very proud” of the Bute House Agreement. 

Of the three SNP MSPs vying to replace her, only Humza Yousaf has committed to keeping the partnership deal in place. 

In her final reflections, Ms Sturgeon said whoever replaced her would either be Scotland's second female First Minister, or the first from a minority ethnic background. 

“Either way, that will send the very powerful message that this, the highest office in the land, is one that any young person in Scotland can aspire to.” 

As she reached the end of her speech, she urged MSPs to be kind to one another.

"Robust debate and holding government to account are the hallmarks of what we do in here," she said.

"That is, as it should be, and let me thank those in other parties for that. But maybe, just maybe we might actually enhance our democracy if occasionally, we all of us treated each other with kindness too. if we remembered that we are opponents, not enemies."

Ms Sturgeon also offered her successor advice: “Never forget that every day in this office is an opportunity to make something better for someone somewhere in Scotland. 

“Do not shy away from the big challenges or difficult debates. 

“You won't get everything right, but it is always better to aim high and fall short than not try at all. 

“And always draw strength, energy and wisdom from the people of this wonderful country.” 

Speaking to journalists after she left the chamber for the last time, Ms Sturgeon said it would be the people around her that she missed most. 

In his response to the First Minister’s statement, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: "We have all lived through the Sturgeon-era of Scottish politics, and that era is now coming to an end."

He said that since 1999, she had "been a permanent fixture in this Parliament and on her party's front bench."

"In these times of political turbulence that is staying power that many of us could only ever wish for," he added.

Mr Ross said he was the only recent politician to have beat Ms Sturgeon, referencing a £100 bet the two made in 2021 over who would resign first. 

"Just for the record, I have to say that I'm still awaiting payment," he told MSPs. "And it's perhaps one final example of delays from Nicolas Sturgeon's government."

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, told parliament that he had first met Ms Sturgeon when he was a teenager.

"It's safe to say that both of us have grown up and changed a lot since then. Regardless of our many differences, even her harshest critics would except the Nicola Sturgeon is an able and formidable politician, who has stood at the forefront of Scottish politics for more than 15 years. And while we've disagreed passionately about what is best for the people, I have never for a moment doubted her love for Scotland." 

Scottish Green leader Patrick Harvie used his speech to pay tribute to Ms Sturgeon's bid to reform laws around gender recognition, comparing it to her support in the early days of the parliament to revoke Section 28.

"I've agreed and disagreed with Nicola Sturgeon on issues over the years since then, but in recent months, she has shown that same commitment to stand by another vulnerable group in our society while so many in politics and in the media were dredging up the tropes and prejudice of past decades and redirecting them against transgender people.

"So I can still see today, what I remember from those days, Nichola Sturgeon's commitment to be an ally to marginalised people remains part of her character as a politician."

He ended by urging the Ms Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney to "continue to find ways to infuriate all the right people.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The First Minister and I are two very different people, our visions of the future of Scotland and of the United Kingdom just do not align, but I recognise hard work when I see it."

In her final words from the frontbench in Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said she would struggle to say much more “without crying”, as she thanked the opposition leaders for their comments.

“You will of course see me very soon on a backbench near here, but in the meantime, for the final time from me as First Minister, to the people of Scotland: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the privilege of being your First Minister.”