Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy, according to Scots

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
February 21, 2023, 4:07 PM GMT+0

Scots think the first minister has been a good leader, and list her pandemic response as her biggest achievement

On Wednesday last week, Nicola Sturgeon announced that she will be standing down as first minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP.

Now a new YouGov survey of Scots, conducted in the aftermath of Sturgeon’s resignation revelation, shows what the nation thinks about her time in office, who should succeed her, and where things currently stand in terms of voting intention and support for independence.

What is Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy?

While Sturgeon is a divisive figure in Scottish politics – 46% of Scots have a favourable opinion of her compared to 48% an unfavourable one – Scots do tend to feel that she has performed well during her time in charge. Half (50%) say she has been a good leader for Scotland, compared to 32% who say she has been bad and 13% who say she was neither good nor bad.

Scots are split on her impact on the nation. Compared to when she took over in 2014, 37% say Scotland is now a worse place to live, compared to 29% who say it is better and 24% who see it as much the same.

Sturgeon’s greatest achievement is seen as the response to the Covid pandemic, with 41% of Scots choosing this from our list. Introducing the baby box comes a distant second, at 9%. Only 6% of Scots, including 13% of those who currently back the SNP, say that furthering the cause of independence has been her biggest achievement.

Indeed, fully 60% of Scots say that the first minister has spent too much time on the issue of independence over the last eight years, although only 20% of current SNP voters agree.

Asked to choose from a list of words to describe Nicola Sturgeon, Scots are most likely to pick “determined” (50%), hardworking (47%) and intelligent (34%).

Who do Scots want to be Nicola Sturgeon’s successor?

The race to replace Nicola Sturgeon is currently between three candidates: finance secretary Kate Forbes, health secretary Humza Yousef, and former community safety minister Ash Regan.

Sturgeon’s potential successors are largely unknown to the Scottish public. Asked which of seven candidates (the three listed above, plus four who dropped out of the running since the beginning of fieldwork) would be the best replacement, most (54%) answered “don’t know”. Kate Forbes topped the list at 10%.

Likewise, asked whether individual candidates would make a good first minister or not, between 47% and 84% answered “don’t know” again. Humza Yousef has the greatest name recognition in this regard, but is seen as likely to do a bad job by twice as many as think he would do a good job (36% vs 17%).

Kate Forbes and the constitution and culture secretary Angus Robertson are the most likely to be seen as making a good first minister, but in both cases around 20% of Scots say they would do a good job and the same number a bad job. Fully 82% of Scots don’t know enough about Ash Regan to give a view, with 7% thinking she would be good and 11% bad.

Among current SNP voters specifically, Robertson is the most likely to be seen as a good first minister, at 39%. Yousef and Forbes come next on 32% and 31% respectively, although more say Yousef would be a bad first minister (25%) than Forbes (10%).

Regan is as unknown to SNP voters as she is to the wider public, with only 8% thinking she would be a good first minister and 5% a bad one.

When it comes to the next SNP leader’s approach to independence, SNP voters are split. A third (35%) say they should seek to use a UK or Scottish general election as a "de facto" referendum on Scottish independence, while 26% say they should continue to push for the British government to grant another referendum. One in five (19%) say they should not prioritise Scottish independence for the time being.

Latest Scottish voting intention

Our first Westminster voting intention poll in Scotland since Nicola Sturgeon announced she would be standing down – conducted 17-20 February – shows a four-point drop in the SNP vote share since late January to 38%, and a four-point increase in the Conservative vote to 19%. Labour’s 29% remains unchanged from last time.*

Holyrood voting intention remains within the margin of error for all parties from the previous poll.

Independence tracker

Our latest independence tracker results show 54% would vote No and 46% would vote Yes – virtually the same as our January poll.

While most Scots (68%) are opposed to another independence referendum this year, they are divided on the prospect of ‘Indyref2’ in the next five years, with 45% in favour and 44% against.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in November that the Scottish government cannot call an independence referendum without permission from the British government, by 51% to 40% Scots say that the Scottish government should not need to get such permission.

*Last week’s poll (10-15 February) showing a narrow lead for the SNP over Labour was conducted on behalf of the Scottish Election Study. YouGov provided the fieldwork for this survey and so the underlying sample was weighted to be politically and nationally representative of all adults (16+) in Scotland using the same methodology as standard YouGov polls. However, the voting intention results used slightly different wording and did not include YouGov’s standard turnout weighting and so should not be directly tracked to other YouGov voting intention figures as they are not identical. Instead, they should be tracked to other SCOOP voting intention polls conducted by the Scottish Election Study (latest wave conducted in November 2022). The latest YouGov figures voting intention poll using its standard methodology (17-20 February) can be tracked to our latest poll conducted 23-26 January. This difference in methodology may have contributed towards the difference in figures, though to a large extent this is likely to be just the normal sample variation within the margin of error.

See the full results here

Photo: Getty