WHEN Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation as first minister nearly 11 months ago, there are, I’m sure, those who will tell you they could have predicted everything which took place in the year that followed. Not me.

I had no idea who would replace her (I do recall there were some who were adamant they knew just who it would be and, lo and behold, they were wrong). I did not foresee the extent of the drama and intrigue around the investigation into the SNP’s finances that would transpire amidst her departure, with daily and even hourly headlines which left me – as the kids say – shook.

Nor did I expect Scotland to come so excruciatingly close, virtually overnight, to having a first minister who proudly states that they would have voted against same-sex marriage and that they believe people have the right to stand outside hospitals with anti-abortion signs and approach women trying to enter.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, or so they say. It can also be used to rewrite history, or erase it altogether when the occasion calls for it.

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Thus it seems the legacy of Sturgeon has fallen into limbo; some unreachable place where it cannot be acknowledged or examined, and certainly not celebrated. Better, perhaps, to pretend that the seven and a half years of her tenure never really happened at all. Just a mass delusion – the strangest example yet of the Mandela Effect.

In the words of the party’s deputy leader at Westminster, Mhairi Black, when referring to her old boss on a podcast last week: “Who?”

But looking from the outside in at the SNP and the new Scottish Government, it seems that some spotless minds would do well to remember more about how they got to where they are and the reasons why so many people were voting for them in the first place.

This past month has brought with it several signs of a new era for the SNP as First Minister Humza Yousaf, emerging from the shadows of a challenging year, has set out his own vision and spending plans for government.

The National: First Minister Humza Yousaf delivered a speech on the economy at Glasgow University

In a major speech delivered on Monday at Glasgow University detailing plans for an industrial strategy in an independent Scotland, Yousaf made clear that his government would support continued oil and gas production for a decade after a Yes vote.

This, despite a commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2045, and the small matter of the “global climate emergency” – words used by former climate change secretary Roseanna Cunningham back in May 2019. Funnily enough, the emergency isn’t getting any less urgent as the clock ticks by.

The reality is that 10 more years of producing oil and gas is too long if we are even remotely serious about protecting the future of our planet – and given that a referendum isn’t taking place today, tomorrow, or the day after that, this promise makes an absolute joke out of the Government’s climate commitments.

Contrast this with Sturgeon’s vocal opposition to the Cambo oil field in Shetland despite pressure from those in the sector, as well as her predecessor Alex Salmond, who said the move would cost her party votes.

The First Minister’s appeal to oil and gas as an essential industry for the early days of an independent Scotland echoes the sentiments he expressed last week when asked to defend his decision to reach out to Stagecoach owner Brian Souter.

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Once a major SNP donor and notorious bankroller of the campaign to “Keep the Clause” barring schools from talking about gay people at the turn of the century, Souter’s relationship with the SNP came to an abrupt end when Sturgeon took over as leader.

Now, though, Yousaf says he is keen to “reset the relationship with business”, which is why he asked Souter, who he describes as “an exceptional businessman for Scotland”, for help in organising a five-star dinner for business leaders within his first few months as First Minister.

The message could not be clearer; the new SNP intend to do things differently, and that means closer ties with big businesses and big potential donors – regardless of the social or environmental harms inflicted by these businesses or their owners.

In the month following the new Scottish Government’s first budget announcement where meaningful investment to tackle poverty was sparse, existing plans or policies were highlighted as if they were new, and cuts were dressed up so that only a discerning eye could notice them, this feels a lot like twisting the knife.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon

Amongst the most significant actions taken by Sturgeon as first minister was the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment, and its increase to £25 per week per child.

Both financially and logistically, this was a huge undertaking for the Scottish Government, but it is one which is already making an immense difference to families struggling under unliveable UK social security levels.

Charities working with children, families and women have called upon the government to raise the amount to £30 because, without this, its own targets to reduce child poverty simply won’t be met.

During his leadership campaign, Yousaf said he would back that increase. Instead, the Government met its legal requirement to raise the benefit by inflation and framed that as a win, all while choosing to fund a council tax freeze which will benefit better-off households most – money which, if it had been spent on the Child Payment, would have lifted 10,000 more children out of poverty, according to analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research.

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Black isn’t the first – and likely won’t be the last – to refer to a “cult of personality” surrounding the former first minister. But if the last few weeks should tell us anything, it’s that Sturgeon’s leadership was at least as much about substance as it was about style.

Under Sturgeon’s direction, it seems to me that the vision for independence was simple: freed from the constraints of Westminster politics, Scotland could adopt a better, fairer, more equal and socially just way of running our affairs. This was a vision demonstrated by practical decisions taken by her own government.

Was her government perfect? Absolutely not. Did it make investments which made people’s lives markedly better than they were living solely under Westminster rule? Without a doubt.

One has to wonder if all of this sounded a bit naive to Yousaf. It’s certainly true that business holds a lot of sway in this world, and the bigger the businesses, the stronger the influence.

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But individual voters also hold power, and it was individuals, community groups and grassroots campaigns who took the Yes vote so close to the mark in 2014. It was their enthusiasm, anger, disappointment and hope that won the SNP its shock landslide in the 2015 General Election.

And, I would argue, it was those people and the many others who might not have seen independence as a top priority, who might even have been uncertain about it, who kept turning up to vote for the SNP because the Scottish Government – under Sturgeon – was delivering policies that made them believe in a brighter future.

It’s for Yousaf to answer those people when they ask, justifiably, why they should trust that an independent Scotland under his reign will be anything more than “out with the old boss, in with the new”.

It would be all too easy for the SNP to blame any impending lost votes on the recent controversy surrounding Sturgeon. They would be wise, however, to reflect on the true impacts of her legacy before they abandon it altogether.