NICOLA Sturgeon fought back tears as she delivered an emotional farewell after eight years at the top of Scottish politics.

It is not strictly correct to speak of the outgoing First Minister as “returning to the backbenches” as she served in Alex Salmond’s shadow team from the moment she entered the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

MSPs across the spectrum say her departure marks a shift in the political landscape in this country – even Douglas Ross, after a stormy FMQs session paid tribute to her as a politician possessing a “staying power” many of her opponents could “could only ever wish for”.

Behind the scenes

But there is disquiet among her SNP comrades, whether or not they admit it openly. Two Humza Yousaf-backing MSPs were overheard in Holyrood on Thursday discussing whether they could bring themselves to the announcement on Monday – said to be taking place in Murrayfield Stadium.

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One – who admitted they felt “shite” about the FM’s exit – fretted that they would not be able to hide their emotions if the vote were to go “the wrong way”.

Her political opponents smell blood – but seem painfully aware they have a long time to wait before the post-Sturgeon SNP is tested at a Scottish Parliament election.

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Tory MSP Miles Briggs told The National there was a “seismic change” coming in Scottish politics and predicted that the coalition of voters Sturgeon is credited with holding together would unravel in the “coming months and years”.

Michael Marra, Labour’s education spokesperson said that Scottish politics was “more fluid now than it’s been for an awful long time” and Scottish LibDems leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the political climate was “shifting in big and unpredictable ways”.

The final speech

The Parliment's canteen was visited by a table-full of Sturgeon’s office staff who watched on as she delivered her farewell speech, in which she personally thanked them for their service.

The public gallery was at capacity and, as is increasingly traditional, host to a climate change protester who called on the SNP leadership candidates to block a new oil development in the North Sea.

Schoolchildren watched on as the First Minister told MSPs: “No girl in our country now has any doubt that a woman can hold the highest office in the land.”

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SNP MSP Karen Adam was keen to stress the FM’s feminist credentials when speaking about her legacy, saying Sturgeon should be praised for fostering a more “inviting” atmosphere for women to come to the top table.

Adam, a Yousaf-backer, also said she was not worried for the future of her party - saying Sturgeon and her outgoing deputy John Swinney had laid “very firm foundations” for the SNP’s future. The sentiment was echoed by her party colleague and Kate Forbes’s campaign manager Michelle Thomson.

Thomson said: “I have no doubt whatsoever that the SNP will come right back together behind whoever is elected and move forward.”

But despite internal party tensions, it is the Greens who hold the balance of power as it stands and members admit privately if Forbes or Ash Regan win the Bute House Agreement is as good as dead.

Sturgeon alluded to this briefly in her valedictory speech – noting the importance of the deal – in what may have been seen as the hint of a warning to her would-be successors Forbes and Regan, who have both said they would review the SNP/Greens agreement.

The sands of Scottish politics are shifting whatever view one takes on Sturgeon’s legacy and what it means for independence.

But she left her successor – whoever they are – with a message they should note: “Never forget that every day in this office is an opportunity to make something better for someone, somewhere in Scotland.”