Now that Nicola Sturgeon has gone, is it safe to go back to Scotland? There is a sense that whoever replaces her – we will find out on Monday – the Nationalist takeover has run its course and the country can begin its rehabilitation.

Barring actual independence, a vanishingly slim prospect given current polling, no SNP leader will exert the same power over party or nation as Sturgeon did, and future regimes, even Nationalist ones, will be more respectful of democratic traditions.

Much as the outgoing First Minister tried to salvage her reputation in her self-regarding valedictory on Thursday, events of the past few weeks have exposed the shabby truth of her reign.

She ran her court, as her critics have long claimed, from a tiny inner circle that included her husband, the now ex-SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, and excluded most of her cabinet colleagues.

We know this for sure from the leadership contender Kate Forbes, who might have been Sturgeon’s Finance Secretary, one of the three most important government jobs, but was left out of the loop.

“I think people have seen through this contest the fact that too many decisions are taken by too few people,” she told the Scottish Sun.

“I wasn’t actually part of the decision making so that indicates if your Finance Secretary isn’t necessarily part of the decision making then we need to expand the decision making quite significantly.”

Cabinet meetings lasted a mere 20 minutes and were apparently superfluous to the Sturgeon operation, as were debates over policy and brainstorming over ideological differences.

The Scottish Conservatives’ leader, Douglas Ross, accused Sturgeon of putting her independence goal above national priorities.

“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,” he said.

In fact, the focus was even narrower; Sturgeon ruled according to her own and her husband’s discretion, with the aid of a handful of acolytes.

There is no doubt that she left Scotland the poorer as a result. The rot at the centre has been laid bare, with Murrell forced to resign after he was found out – by no less than the SNP’s press spokesman – concocting tales about declining party membership.

Liz Lloyd, the sanctum’s gatekeeper, has quit too, following revelations she was masterminding the leadership campaign of Sturgeon favourite Humza Yousaf. And Sturgeon’s deputy, John Swinney, has also announced his departure from politics.

Then there is the mystery over the party’s missing £600,000, raised from member donations, and the subject of an ongoing police investigation.

But the damage done to Scotland’s political culture is nothing to that inflicted on the country’s public services and its people by Sturgeon’s blinkered approach to governance.

She leaves behind a health system where patients must wait up to seven years for surgery, after the failure of her NHS recovery plan, the Times reported.  

Scotland in her wake has the shameful accolade of being the drugs death capital of Europe, with figures nearly four times higher than any other country for which records exist, a rate that has trebled on the SNP’s watch.

This reflects Scotland’s disproportionately high levels of deprivation, unalleviated under SNP rule, and mirrored also in the yawning poverty-related education attainment gap that Sturgeon vowed to close.

Rural Scots, considered expendable in electoral terms, have been forgotten too, with the scandal of the government’s ferries fiasco low on the SNP’s horizon.

Sturgeon has allowed her cherished Green comrades to dictate policy for the Highlands and islands, including plans that will destroy the coastal economy in remote regions like Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles, and abandoning the greatly overdue dualling of the A9 that runs between Inverness and Perth.

Ironically, she achieved so little on the domestic front because she was supposedly too busy furthering her separatist agenda, and sowing discord with Westminster, to concentrate on a programme of reform. Yet the Nationalists are nowhere nearer to breaking up Britain than when Sturgeon succeeded Alex Salmond in 2014.

She has tainted her legacy not just with her anti-English fanaticism but with her obsession over gender politics, alienating fellow party members whose support she neglected to seek.

In her parting shot, Sturgeon entreated the parliament to remember “we are opponents, not enemies”, yet it was the SNP party chairman, Michael Russell, who said “enemies is not too strong a word” for some Unionists.

This is the Scotland that Sturgeon fomented, with division at its heart and barely concealed hatred for those who dared challenge either the secessionist dogma or the transgender fixation.

Living in Scotland throughout most of her tenure, it often felt like a foreign country and, in that, Sturgeon achieved her aim.

During Covid, her futile attempts to shut down the borders and blame infections on incoming southerners would have been almost funny were it not for the characteristic Nationalist venom she betrayed.

She did not speak for Scotland but for Scottish Nationalists, at best half the population, but managed to get away with the charade thanks to successive election triumphs.

Sturgeon promised to represent all Scots. The new leader could start the necessary healing process by keeping this promise.

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