Nicola Sturgeon has said nothing in her life will ever come close to the “profound honour” of serving as Scotland’s First Minister.
The SNP leader held back tears as she thanked Scotland for what she said was “truly the privilege of my lifetime” following more than eight years in office.
Speaking after her final and 286th FMQs, Sturgeon said being First Minister “of the country I love has been a profound honour”.
“Being First Minister has been variously often all at once challenging, exhilarating and exhausting,” she said.
“Every single day without exception, it has been an utter privilege.”
She admitted that while she had made her “fair share of mistakes” she is “overwhelmingly proud” of what her Government has achieved.
And as the first female in the role in Scotland, she said: “As the first woman to hold this office, advancing gender equality has also been very close to my heart.”
She added: “No girl in our country now has any doubt that a woman can hold the highest office in the land.”
During her last official speech as Scotland’s leader, she paid tribute to those impacted by the Covid pandemic.
She said: “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.”
Sturgeon said that after more than 35 years in politics, she knows that now is the right time for her to leave Bute House.
She said: “I know in my heart this is the right time. It’s time for Nicola Sturgeon the politician to make space for Nicola Sturgeon the person.”
Paying tribute to the deputy first minister, who is also stepping down from the Scottish Government, she said: “John Swinney (is) the best deputy first minister and the best friend I could have wished for on this journey.”
She issued advice for the incoming SNP leader, saying: “Next week, we will find out whose portrait will go alongside me on the stairwell of Bute House, subject to this chamber’s approval.
“It will either be Scotland’s second female First Minister, or the first from a minority ethnic background.”
She added: “Never forget that everything in this office is an opportunity to make something better for someone somewhere in Scotland.
“Do not shy away from the big challenges that are difficult. You won’t get everything right. But it is always better to try to aim high and fall short than to not try at all.”
Following her speech, leaders from across Scotland’s parties paid tribute to Sturgeon, Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister.
Douglas Ross said while he saw Sturgeon as an “adversary” rather than an “ally”, he said she is a role model for young girls.
The Scottish Tory leader said: “When Nicola Sturgeon leaves office she will bring to a close a political career in this chamber few, if many, can or will match in its length.”
He added: “For Nicola Sturgeon, her predecessors and her successors, it remains the rarest of honours.
“And even rarer still as what Nicola Sturgeon described herself, as a working-class girl from Ayrshire.
“I recognise the positive message it sends that in Scotland any child can have the ability to reach the heights they dream of.”
But the Scottish Tory leader criticised the First Minister, accusing her of putting her party before the country at times.
He said: “While the First Minister is a talented politician, those talents have not always been used to the best of her ability in government.”
He added: “On her first day in office, Nicola Sturgeon promised to be the First Minister for all of Scotland, regardless of your politics or your point of view.
“But for some, too often, she used her position to further her party’s political objectives rather than bring the country together and govern in all of Scotland’s interests.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said under Sturgeon, poverty in Scotland remains too high, NHS waiting too long and the economy needs “restarted”.
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