POP history was replayed on the radio yesterday when Woody Woodmansey, one of Ziggy Stardust’s Spiders from Mars, recalled what it was like to be on stage the night Bowie announced he was breaking up the band.

The concert at Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973 was captured in a landmark documentary, now digitally restored and heading to cinemas to mark 50 years since the event.

Woodmansey did not know the end was coming and it was plain the shock remains with him to this day. I would imagine there was similar bewilderment among Nicola Sturgeon’s colleagues on hearing her quit. The wider world was just as amazed. Why this, why now?

Bowie’s shock resignation turned out to be a genius move that took him to even greater heights of success. As for Ms Sturgeon’s departure, let us be generous and call that a work in progress.

Little had been heard from the former First Minister until she held a huddle with the Holyrood media and spoke of the tough time she had been going through, something we won’t go into here for obvious reasons.

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Then it emerged she was due to play a gig at the Aye Write book festival in Glasgow at the end of May. The tickets to see her interview Janey Godley about the comedian’s debut novel, Nothing Left Unsaid, were selling in such numbers that the show had to be moved to a bigger auditorium.

This week, Ms Sturgeon, wearing a writer’s hat of her own, appeared in The Guardian with a piece on judge-only rape trials. In the article she expressed her dismay about the polarisation of “our politics”. While she had touched on this in her resignation speech, she now realised she had underestimated the depth of the problem.

Her appeal for open minds and calm, civilised discourse was promptly met by a wave of fury and charges of hypocrisy. It was not that long ago, after all, that she had called part of the population transphobic, misogynist, homophobic, and possibly racist, for opposing her gender recognition reforms.

A nation divided, then, between those so keen to hear Ms Sturgeon speak they are paying for the pleasure, and those who think a period of quiet reflection on her part would not go amiss. What is a former First Minister to do?

She is not the only ex-leader to wrestle with life after high office. In her case, some of the newly spare time is being spent learning to drive. She will already be familiar with the concept of a backseat driver. There are a lot of them at Westminster. All those former Prime Ministers hanging around, twiddling their thumbs. Take Liz Truss.

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Now there is someone the country would happily see take to her bed for the next 20 years. But here she is, popping up in Taiwan to share her thoughts on all things China. What could possibly go wrong?

John Major complained when Margaret Thatcher did it to him, but he foisted advice on his successors. Boris Johnson and his cohorts are trying to backseat drive Rishi Sunak. The betting is it will take all of two minutes for Tony Blair to send his best wishes, and a request for a meeting, to Prime Minister Starmer.

At Holyrood there was a shortage of backseat drivers until near the end of Ms Sturgeon’s time in office, when there seemed to be no end of them.

Such things are sent to try former leaders. It can’t be easy. A few months ago you were sitting on the Loose Women panel, now you are at home watching them like everyone else. Think tanks once clamoured to hear your ideas, now there are only customer service surveys to fill out.

As should be clear by now, Ms Sturgeon is a woman who won’t, to borrow a phrase, wheesht. Why should she? She remains an elected member of the Scottish Parliament with constituents to serve. She has plenty of time ahead for another big job or three, and she has valuable experience to share, not least in how to win elections.

That could be the future. For now she has much to reflect on from the recent past. Her unwillingness to heed widespread criticism of her gender recognition reforms led to a backlash. Now she is wading into a fight with the legal establishment over jury-less rape trial trials.

While we are on the subject of heated debates, how advisable is it to bemoan the deep divisions in Scottish politics when you did so much to cause them and keep them going? Ms Sturgeon was no pushover, and never held back when criticising her political enemies, here or further afield. It’s a bit late to start appealing for peace, love and understanding now.

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How she deals with her record in office could determine so much about her future and that of her party. Before she quit, and since, there has been a concerted effort to present her time as First Minister as one of unqualified success. She did nothing wrong, and if anything was amiss – though no one in her camp is saying it was – then blame the pandemic, the cost of living crisis, Russia invading Ukraine, Westminster, and the rest.

Many would disagree with this assessment, and the arguments will run and run. Amid the sound and fury of politics it can be hard to make out the words that truly matter. But last Sunday, a calm and clear voice cut through the din to say Ms Sturgeon had “absolutely” failed children and young people in Scotland. No ifs, buts or maybes, she promised to close the attainment gap and much else, and she did not deliver.

The words came from Bruce Adamson, the independent commissioner for children and young people, as he left office after six years in the job. He deserves a nation’s thanks for telling it like it is. As far as I can see there has been no formal response from Ms Sturgeon. Perhaps that’s next week’s Guardian article. In the meantime, her successor has been quick to leap to her defence, and his own. Mr Adamson had been similarly unimpressed by Humza Yousaf’s lack of action since taking office.

It would improve the standing of the former and current First Ministers no end if they accepted these and other criticisms of their shared record. The familiar defensiveness, the same tired old songs and excuses, will no longer do.