BORIS Johnson is a “disgrace” to the office of prime minister who believed hard work was “beneath him”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister’s damning comments came as she appeared at the Fringe Festival alongside political host Iain Dale.

Speaking in front of a crowd at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, the SNP leader said that working with Johnson had been “like nothing I’ve ever dealt with before from any senior politician”.

She said: “Perhaps uncharitably I described my conversations with Theresa May when she was prime minister as soul-destroying. I look back somewhat fondly now.

“She took the job seriously, she was always well briefed … she knew the detail of the subject she was talking about.

“Boris Johnson always gave the impression that he thought the detail, the hard graft of the job, was beneath him, that it was for somebody else to do while he just blustered around.”

The Scottish First Minister said Johnson had rarely bothered to take part in four-nation meetings with the other heads of devolved governments, and when he was present she would find herself having to interject “out of sheer frustration” to bring him back to the topic at hand.

Sturgeon described the outgoing Tory leader’s time running the UK Government as “one long bluster”, adding: “The office of prime minister deserves better.”

She went on: “It’s been an experience like no other. He was the third prime minister I’ve dealt with as First Minister. It was literally like nothing I’ve ever dealt with before from any senior politician. I’m going to be blunt, he was a disgrace to the office of prime minister.

“He hasn’t actually resigned yet, let’s not forget. He is still the Prime Minister, although he is missing in action while the country is living through one of the most serious and difficult periods in our memories. It is also a disgrace that he hasn’t departed.

“If he wants to stay as prime minister he should do the job, and if he doesn’t want to do the job he should get out.”

The SNP leader also addressed a series of other topics as she was quizzed by Dale in front of a largely friendly Edinburgh crowd.

These ranged from Liz Truss – who she revealed had only wanted to talk about landing an interview with Vogue magazine when they met at COP26 – to Brexit, independence, and the crises facing Scotland.

On leading the SNP into the next Holyrood election

Asked if she planned to lead the SNP into the next Holyrood election, due to be held in 2026, Sturgeon said that was the “default position”.

She said a final decision would have to made closer to the time, but said she could not answer the question in a more “human” way due to spin which would be put on anything she said by the media.

The First Minister told the audience: “Quite recently, I refused to absolutely 100% say I’ll fight the next election for example – who here today knows with 100% certainty what they’ll be doing four years from now? – when you try and answer that a bit more humanly, it gets spun into ‘oh she’s going to stand down, she’s already thinking about it’.

“People want you to answer these questions more humanly, but the media often don’t give you the space.”

She added: “This is a serious job and anybody in a job like this owes it to the public to make sure that they’re the right person to do it, that they've got the energy to do it, that they've got the appetite, that they're prepared to make the enormous commitment that a job like this involves, and to constantly be assessing and reassessing that. I think that's important, and I will try my best to do that.”

The National:

She further refuted claims from Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton (above) that she was not “up for the fight anymore”. She said the idea – which she pointed out opponents had been trying to push for some time – was nothing but “wishful thinking”.

Sturgeon said: “I think on the part of my political opponents, this idea, which they’ve tried to push for quite some time actually … that I was just waiting for the right time to chuck it and move on to some grand international job, is nonsense. It’s wishful thinking on their part.

“I’ve been First Minister now for almost eight years, and over those eight years I’ve fought and won as leader of my party eight elections.

“So you can see why people like Alex Cole-Hamilton would like me to stand down and not be up for the fight anymore, but I’m up for the challenge.”

On Brexit and the Borders

Sturgeon insisted that the issues which Scotland would face coming to an arrangement over the English border was a child of Brexit, not independence. She said that any “chaos” like the queues seen at Dover would be avoided by proper planning.

“We will plan for all aspects of independence in a way that UK governments did not plan for Brexit,” she said.

“Much of the chaos that we’re seeing has least been added to or exacerbated by a complete, woeful and shameful lack of planning for it.

“We had a complete 700-page prospectus in 2014, whether you agreed or disagreed with that, in the run up to Brexit we had the lie on the side of a bus.”

The National:

Sturgeon further said that “often the Border issue is used by opponents of independence to try to scare people”. The First Minister pointed to Norway and Sweden as an example of two countries which have a customs border but a successful trading relationship.

She went on: “This is not about movement of people, nobody with any credibility would argue that an independent Scotland wouldn’t be in the Common Travel Area, you will be able to travel between Scotland and England freely as individuals. This whole ‘you won’t be able to visit your granny without a passport’ is nonsense.”

Dale quoted trade figures which he said showed that Scotland’s trade with the EU was worth £16bn, while trade with the rest of the UK was worth £52bn.

In response, Sturgeon said: “When Ireland joined Europe for the first time, it transformed its trading relationships. It went from massive dependence on the UK market to expanding its trade across Europe. That’s the prize, back in the single market, which is eight times bigger than the UK. This is about broadening our horizons, not narrowing them.”

On the Supreme Court

The First Minister said that Unionists were showing a “determination to not engage with the substance of the [Scottish independence] debate, which is what they should be doing, but tie it all up in process and claims of illegality”.

The question of whether Scotland’s Parliament has the power to hold a referendum on independence has been put before the Supreme Court, with both the UK and Scottish governments submitting their written cases.

Arguments will be heard in October, with a ruling issued in the following weeks. Sturgeon said legal issues were for the Supreme Court and not for her, but that the decision to be independent “must be constitutional and lawful”.

The National:

Asked what would happen if the Court (above) ruled Holyrood did not have the power to legislate for indyref2, Sturgeon said that “what cannot be acceptable, if the UK is genuinely a voluntary partnership of nations, is that Scotland doesn’t have the right to choose a different future”.

Accepting that it was not the “best way” of doing things, she reiterated her plans to use the next General Election as a “de facto” referendum.

Responding to claims such a de facto vote may not be recognised by the UK Government, she said: “I’m sorry but that is not democratic. That is not democracy, and no UK politician should be allowed to effectively run roughshod over Scottish democracy.

“If you’re going to save the Union, start making a positive argument for the Union. You’re not doing that right now, in fact you’re demonstrating almost every day why not being independent is bad for Scotland.”

Rejecting any notion of holding a referendum where independence needed more than 50%+1 to win, Sturgeon said she felt confident that Yes would win a second vote by a “comfortable margin”.

On mandates

“The people who say somehow that the hoops I have jumped through have not been high enough or plentiful enough to constitute a mandate for an independence referendum are the same people who would argue that votes much less than that are mandates for all sorts of things," the First Minister said.

Sturgeon gave short thrift to any argument that the SNP/Green government does not have a mandate to hold indyref2, arguing that the Tory governments of both David Cameron and Boris Johnson had lower constituency vote shares than her party won in 2021.

The National: Boris Johnson next to the slogan 'Get Brexit Done' on the Tory election battlebus

“The vote the SNP got last year in constituencies across Scotland was the highest share of the vote that any party has got in the lifetime of devolution. If that’s not a mandate, then we’re rewriting the entire rules of politics and democracy in this country,” she said.

“What are they scared of? What are the people who don’t want Scotland to be an independent country so scared of? Let the people decide.

“The only reason Unionists don’t want people in Scotland to make this choice is because they believe, as I do, that they will lose, that when we next get to choose, Scotland will vote to be independent because they see the price, particularly in the last few years, of not being.”

On energy prices and independence

The First Minister pointed to the broken promises of 2014’s Better Together, singling out claims that energy bills would be lower if the UK stayed together.

Asked if she was suggesting that an independent Scotland would have lower energy bills than people are facing in the UK today, Sturgeon said that was not the argument she was making.

“So much of what was promised to Scotland if we voted No has proven to be false, and so many of the scare stories of what would happen if we became independent have actually happened because we are not,” the SNP leader said.

READ MORE: What happened to the Scottish Government's public energy company plans?

Asked about plans to create a national Scottish energy company – which were scrapped in September 2021 – Sturgeon suggested the pandemic had gotten in the way.

She further insisted her Government was still looking at what changes could be made to better benefit from the Scotland’s renewable potential.

On the attainment gap

The First Minister strenuously denied that the attainment gap between the best and worst off students in Scotland was widening.

She said: “This year compared to last year, people can point to that and say the attainment gap has widened, but it’s comparing apples with pears. We didn’t have exams last year or the year before, we’ve had exams this year.

“If you compare this year’s exams to the last year we had exams, the attainment gap is narrowing.

“We also saw [when the Scottish exam results were published on Tuesday], and when I became First Minister one of the things I was rightly challenged on was the attainment gap in access to university, we saw a record number of young people from deprived communities given a place at university.

“So the attainment gap in terms of access to higher education is narrowing. And there’s a survey, a Eurostat survey not that long ago, that described Scotland as the best educated country in Europe in terms of the percentage of the population in tertiary education.”

On drugs deaths

The National: The number of drug-related deaths has fallen.

The First Minister was asked about a comment she made in the run up to the 2021 Holyrood election in which she said she had “taken eye off the ball” when it came to the drugs deaths crisis.

Sturgeon admitted that the comment – which has been frequently quoted by the opposition – was “probably not the best way to describe what I was trying to say”.

She said steps had been taken to address the crisis, but “self-evidently, what we’ve been doing hasn’t been enough, or it hasn’t always been the right thing”.

In 2021, 1330 people in Scotland lost their lives to drugs, including a record number of women. The total was just nine lower than the 1339 drugs deaths recorded in 2020.

In an effort to tackle the crisis, Sturgeon said the Scottish Government was spending money on providing faster access to treatment, expanding rehabilitation services, extending community services, and rolling out the use of overdose prevention drug Naloxone.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon speaks out as data lays bare 'unacceptable' drugs deaths crisis

She further said that safe consumption spaces – where people can consume drugs and access help – were “something we want to set up”.

The SNP leader said that other countries like Portugal had seen success with such spaces “but this is not clear cut”.

“I’m not saying this as a political point,” she went on, “but there is a division of responsibility between my government and the UK Government when it comes to drugs policy, and drugs classification is also reserved.

“I’m genuinely not saying this to try and shrug off responsibility but in terms of the criminal justice aspects of this, which are invoked around a safe consumption facility, it’s not clear cut.

“But we are nevertheless working to try and find a way of doing it. We are trying lots of different approaches to this. There is no one solution, there are many things we need to do.”