Nicola Sturgeon fears women will be put off entering politics by social media abuse and safety fears

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The First Minister said there was no doubt politicians felt “less safe” than ever before because of the political debate way had become so much more polarized and toxic.

Interviewed by actress Nicola Roy for The Cultural Coven podcast, the First Minister recalled the impact of having her home address posted online and being confronted in the street by a far-right candidate on election day in Glasgow.

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Ms Sturgeon also recalled feeling overwhelmed and “really terrified” during the early days of the Covid pandemic due to the magnitude of decisions she had to take and admitted regularly bursting into tears.

Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Jane Barlow/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Asked how safe she felt as a modern-day politician, Ms Sturgeon said: “For me personally, I’m the First Minister, so I have a degree of security that other politicians won’t have.

“I think for all politicians, and I would feel this too, we are less safe than when I was starting out in politics. I don’t think there is any doubt about that at all.

“The political climate and culture is much more polarized and toxic. Social media has a big part to play as it allows people who always existed, but were on the margins but never had a platform before, to have that platform to hurl abuse directly at people.

“Sometimes that spills out into the real world and people confront politicians, attack politicians and sadly as we’ve seen twice in recent years in the UK murder politicians.

“It’s definitely, definitely much more of a worry and a thought than it was in previous years.

“These are the kind of things that you would never have worried about in the past.

“I fear we are going to find it more difficult to attract people into politics, particularly women, who get much abuse on social media, much more than men do.

“For people like me, you have to not give into that.”

Ms Sturgeon was asked whether there had been times during the pandemic when she “had a good old cry and thought ‘I can’t do this today’.”

She said: “Oh yeah, absolutely, many many times, particularly over the early months.

“If I think back to the early days and weeks, it felt overwhelming and really terrifying because none of us really knew what lay ahead and the magnitude of the decisions were like nothing I’d ever gone through before.

“I suppose back then it was a case of continuing to put one foot in front of the other and having to make the decisions as they came.

“As the months wore on and the impact on people became much, more difficult – the mental wellbeing and economic impact, the number of people losing their lives – their were days when I thought ‘I can’t do this.’

“But in jobs like mine, you don’t put yourself up for election only to do the good bits or the easy bits of the job.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t necessarily think you’re signing up to take your country through a global pandemic, but you have to deal whatever comes your way. It’s part and parcel of the responsibility.

“I don’t want to sound trite or cliched. I certainly don’t want it to sound as if my job was harder, because it wasn’t, than many people working in the front line of the health service or in a variety of other jobs.

“But there was a sense of responsibility of having to make the decisions, trying every single day to make the best decisions we could and very early on – and this was hard for anybody in my position to come to terms with – knowing that in such an unprecedented situation we would get things wrong. I had to level with that in my own head.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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