THE customer is always right, but the commentator is not.

Seven days ago, on this page, readers may have read my confident prediction that Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister and SNP leader, was going nowhere anytime soon.

What a difference a week makes. In fairness to me, I was not alone. Any commentator or politician who tells you they knew it was coming has, I would suggest, a tangential relationship with the truth.

It was, to us all, a shock.

And a shock, it must be said, which leaves both the SNP and the independence movement in a state of flux, if not disarray. There will be a great deal of discussion over the coming days, weeks and perhaps months about that.

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The SNP should take its time. It is under no real pressure from its opponents, and we are likely to be 18 months away from any form of national electoral test. Indeed, the party not only should, but must take its time, because the direction of travel both on independence strategy and on party strategy is likely to determine the final answer, at some point, on Scotland’s constitutional future.

These Herald Voices pages will see a rich stream of opinion about the right direction, from today onwards. I would make the initial observation that there are three key areas requiring a meaningful determination, all of which will set the tone for the party’s success in future. The most short-term of these is a pragmatic, political decision to signal that the party, and the Government, is capable of seeking the middle ground on the contentious policy matters which have caused its acute issues.

These policy matters are myriad, but chief amongst them is the gender recognition reform legislation. Without delving too deeply into the issue itself, it is undoubtedly the case that the middle ground voter has misgivings about both the bill and the guidance which surrounds the whole issue of gender identity. The new leader could send a signal by charting a more popular course.

The second conundrum, a medium-term consideration, is the Cooperation Agreement with the Greens. I wrote at the time of the agreement that the SNP had given away too much for too little. The implications have permeated well beyond the prescribed areas outlined in the text, and have been far more profound than I had imagined.

The Herald: With Nicola Sturgeon gone, the Cooperation Agreement with the Greens might be an issue for the direction forwardWith Nicola Sturgeon gone, the Cooperation Agreement with the Greens might be an issue for the direction forward (Image: Newsquest)

The "policy capture" in the housing market, the oil and gas industry and transport infrastructure, to name a few, has been visible, and has spooked the business community and investors into Scotland, not to mention the middle ground voter.

This is a material risk not just to the SNP, but to the prospects of persuading 50 per cent of the population to vote Yes to independence. A new leader should think extremely carefully about whether the Green agreement is doing more harm than good.

Thirdly, the longer-term issue of independence strategy. Belligerent as the UK Government has been, and distasteful as its decision to ignore the democratic request of Scottish voters following the last Scottish Parliament elections may be, the political reality is that last year’s adjudication by the Supreme Court has dumped the SNP into a great, black hole.

Nicola Sturgeon’s instinctive reaction to get out of that hole was the so-called de facto referendum strategy, but one could immediately see many inside her party bristling at the idea, and the risk attached to it. Losing that de facto vote would be a "game over" scenario, just as losing a "real" referendum would be.

It is not immediately clear whether there is a better strategy, and what that would be. But it is immediately clear that the party, and indeed the country, would benefit from an open debate about it during an SNP leadership contest, which we should all hope takes place.

This is all to come, and I would imagine that, by Monday, we might start to hear from the contenders to fill Ms Sturgeon’s shoes.

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This week, though, we should spend some time reflecting on Ms Sturgeon, and on our politics and politicians in general.

I have worked with politicians from all parties for more than 20 years. They are normal people, almost to a man and woman.

They have parents who are proud to watch them when they are on the telly; they have brothers and sisters for whom they have to buy birthday presents; they have children whom they take to swimming lessons on a Saturday morning; and they have friends who have to read Twitter posts which, more often than not, are short on compliments and long on personal and often toxic abuse. Normal people, with an abnormal life.

Nicola Sturgeon fits into that bracket, and then some. I have a personal story which highlights that. Four years ago, one of my daughters required elective surgery; a major procedure on both legs which saw her spend eight weeks in a wheelchair. My job as a lobbyist involves regular communication with advisers as well as politicians, and Ms Sturgeon’s then Chief of Staff, Liz Lloyd, mentioned my daughter to the First Minister.

The day before surgery, a large package arrived at the house. In it was a two-page, handwritten letter from Ms Sturgeon along with eight carefully-chosen books – one for each week to be spent in the wheelchair. On an otherwise nerve-shredding, emotional day, this was a welcome ray of sunshine not just for my daughter, but for us too.

It won Ms Sturgeon no votes. No public adulation. But it won my daughter a memory to treasure. It was a touch of humanity from a very normal human being who happened to be First Minister.

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It would not be the worst idea, I think, for us to think, today, about what life is like for a politician. What it’s like for them to walk down the street or go to the pub; just to lead a normal life. Being a democratically elected representative is an enormous privilege, but it is a burden in at least equal measure.

Don’t feel sorry for them. They volunteered for this. But do recognise that politicians do a job which often carries more risk than reward, and which can be corrosive to them and their loved ones.

Be a normal person. Like they are.

Andy Maciver is Founding Director of Message Matters and Zero Matters