WHEN the news of Nicola Sturgeon resigning as First Minister first broke I – like many – was shocked.

It was not something I had expected to happen that day or anytime soon. That shock soon turned into a new feeling: anxiety – on what was to come next and what this change will mean for Scotland’s future.

For me, she was the only leader I had known – not in the personal sense, obviously, but for the time I have lived in Scotland and grew more politically conscious, it was Nicola Sturgeon who has been at the helm of it all.

She wasn’t a leader I, or many of my peers, elected ourselves, but she was a leader we had grown to accept and, in crisis, be thankful for.

Several years of our lives as young adults have been characterised by ‘unprecedented times.’ Brexit, the pandemic, the cost of living crisis, political dramas in Westminster and subsequent changes in leadership. For the eight years she was First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon was somewhat of a constant force – a form of comfort – in what were tumultuous years of change.

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She was also the head of a government and leader of a party which felt progressive in achieving a fair and equal society. There was a sense of pride living in a progressive Scotland that felt like it listened and prioritised societal changes myself and others found ourselves out in the street or campaigning for – more LGBT education in schools, welcoming refugees, tackling climate change, free period products for all, aims to advance trans rights, a fairer system for those on low incomes.

Maybe such excitement was fuelled because of the political context in the world around us. There has been a rise in right-wing populism, and some events – such as the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs Wade, putting women’s rights to access abortion into question – have created a sense of déjà vu of discrimination returning to politics.

Of course, a sense of too much comfort – particularly when it comes to addressing societal challenges and solving pressing issues – is contentious. Sturgeon’s and the SNP’s leadership legacy has not come without challenges, such as slow progress on achieving climate targets, continuing attainment gaps, sky-high drug deaths, unmet NHS waiting time targets, or the ferry fiasco and the questions surrounding transparency in SNP funding.

To address these issues, change must happen. Still, this change in leadership has left me feeling uneasy.

During her speech two weeks ago, the departing First Minister said she hoped her resignation would “de-polarise public debate just a bit; to focus more on issues than on personalities.”

Yet, since the environment in which the SNP leadership has been taking place has started to already feel divided and divisive amongst the three candidates, the party, and society. Moreover, they have made me question what the SNP will stand for.

HeraldScotland: The departing First Minister had hoped her resignation would 'de-polarise public debate just a bit; to focus more on issues than on personalities' but already the environment is divided and divisiveThe departing First Minister had hoped her resignation would 'de-polarise public debate just a bit; to focus more on issues than on personalities' but already the environment is divided and divisive (Image: Newsquest)

Many words have been written about Kate Forbes and her suitability for leadership, due to views she said she holds based on her faith; most notably that she would have voted against same sex marriage had she been an MSP in 2014, resulting in the loss of several backers to her cause.

Some have said the criticism she received is unfair. However, ultimately, the SNP is electing its new leader, but it is also electing the First Minister of Scotland who, for the coming years, will be setting the tone on how society might look like.

Defending her views, Forbes said that an example worth talking about was Angela Merkel, but it is actually this example which shows how such personal views can go against what society wants when they are made political.

Despite growing support in German society, the CDU/CSU – the union of parties Merkel led – were whipped to oppose same-sex marriage and resisted calls for debate for over a decade.

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Coalition agreements with other parties that were originally in support of equal marriage rights were, among other things, formed on the basis that such support would be withdrawn and the matter not discussed.

That same-sex marriage vote Merkel voted ‘no’ to in 2017, came about not as a simple change of heart, but after – ahead of the German elections that year – all potential coalition partners stated a condition for any coalition agreement would be to introduce same-sex marriage rights. Would the vote have taken place in a timely manner outside of this context? Maybe. But it is hard to say with certainty.

To be fair to Merkel and her union of parties, the CDU – the Christian Democratic Union – and the Christian Social Union – hardly hide that their faith will be part of their politics. They are Christian parties by name and values. But this is another point. The SNP never felt to me like it was.

It is possible that I am not the demographic Forbes wants to reach, but I cannot see myself feeling the same levels of excitement towards the party’s values that I described previously, were these to include questioning the existence and rights of so many of my peers, as well as a reluctance to advance them.

So, who do I support? In terms of the other candidates, Humza Yousaf is seen as a ‘continuation candidate’ to Nicola Sturgeon in terms of values. His leadership claims, however, have been tainted by criticism towards his performance in his ministerial roles – particularly now – being the current health minister, while the NHS is going through crisis.

For Ash Regan, on the other hand, my concerns relate to her aims to unite the Yes movement, as she makes independence her ultimate goal. There has been a form of splintering within the independence movement, partly due to disagreements between the factions of the SNP.

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The question arising for me then becomes how to appease all sides. Independence, maybe, but at what cost when it comes to other policies we have previously seen as part of the SNP government?

In what seems to potentially be an inherent change to the SNP we know and the leadership we’re used to, I am not sure if I can truly support anyone, but the decision also is not up to me. It is up to the SNP members who will be voting until the end of next month.

Overall, I can’t help but feel worried that we are getting a new leader, but maybe not the one we want or need. That only time will tell.

Daniella Theis is Scottish Student Journalist of the Year