This week, Nicolas Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, rather unexpectedly announced her resignation.
You may be called upon at some point to interpret a Minister or President’s resignation speech. This is the kind of task that is less daunting if you have some useful set phrases to draw on. Let’s see if we can build up a ‘toolkit’ for you to use if you’re ever in this situation again.
Exercise 1 – activating your vocabulary
Grab a pen and paper, set a timer for 5 minutes, and write down all the phrases you can think of that might be useful if you were writing a resignation speech.
When you’ve finished, you can compare your list with mine.
Exercise 2 – terminology mining
Here is an edited version of Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation speech. Go through it with a highlighter (if you’ve downloaded and printed it), or just write down some of the phrases she uses that you could repurpose in somebody else’s speech. Think about what effect she is trying to achieve.
“Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming along. I’m sorry to break into your half-term break. The First Minister of Scotland is, in my admittedly biased opinion, the very best job in the world. It is a privilege beyond measure, one that has sustained and inspired me in good times and through the toughest hours of my toughest days. I am proud to stand here as the first female and longest serving incumbent of this office, and I’m very proud of what has been achieved in the years I’ve been in Bute House.
However, since my very first moments in the job, I have believed that part of serving well would be to know almost instinctively when the time is right to make way for someone else. And when that time came, to have the courage to do so, even if to many across the country and in my party it might feel too soon. In my head and in my heart I know that time is now. That it is right for me, for my party, and for the country. And so today I am announcing my intention to step down as First Minister and leader of my party. I have asked the national secretary of the SNP to begin the process of electing a new party leader and I will remain in office until my successor is elected. I know there will be some across the country who feel upset by this decision and by the fact I am taking it now.
Of course, for balance there will be others who will – how should I put this – cope with the news just fine. Such is the beauty of democracy. But to those who do feel shocked, disappointed, perhaps even a bit angry with me. Please know that while hard – and be in no doubt, this is really hard for me – my decision comes from a place of duty and of love. Tough love, perhaps, but love nevertheless, for my party and above all, for the country.
Let me set out as best as I can my reasons. First, though I know it will be tempting to see it as such, this decision is not a reaction to short-term pressures. Of course, there are difficult issues confronting the government just now. But when is that ever not the case? I have spent almost three decades in frontline politics. A decade and a half on the top or second top rung of government when it comes to navigating choppy waters, resolving seemingly intractable issues or soldiering on when walking away would be the simpler option. I have plenty of experience to draw on. So if this was just a question of my ability or my resilience to get through the latest period of pressure, I wouldn’t be standing here today. But it’s not. This decision comes from a deeper and longer term assessment. I know it may seem sudden, but I have been wrestling with it, albeit with oscillating levels of intensity, for some weeks.
Essentially, I’ve been trying to answer two questions. Is carrying on right for me and more importantly, is me carrying on right for the country, for my party, and for the independence cause I have devoted my life to. I understand why some will automatically answer ‘yes’ to that second question. But in truth, I have been having to work harder in recent times to convince myself that the answer to either of them, when examined deeply, is yes. And I’ve reached the difficult conclusion that it’s not.
Giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less.
But in truth, that can only be done by anyone for so long. For me, it is now in danger of becoming too long. The First Minister is never off duty, particularly in this day and age. There is virtually no privacy. Even ordinary stuff that most people take for granted, like going for a coffee with friends or for a walk on your own becomes very difficult. And the nature and form of modern political discourse means that there is a much greater intensity – dare I say it? – brutality to life as a politician than in years gone by. All in all, and actually for a long time without being apparent, it takes its toll on you and on those around you. And if that is true in the best of times, it has been more so in recent years.
Now there are two further reflections that have weighed in my decision. These, I suppose, are more about our political culture and the nature and impact of the dominance and longevity that come from success in politics. And the first I hope my party will take heart from. One of the difficulties in coming to terms with this decision is that I am confident that I can and would lead the SNP to further electoral success. We remain by far the most trusted party in Scotland, and while for every person in Scotland who loves me, there is another who, let’s say, might not be quite so enthusiastic, we are firmly on course to win the next election while our opponents remain adrift. But the longer any leader is in office, the more opinions about them become fixed and very hard to change. And that matters.
Now, a couple of final points before I take a few questions. While I am stepping down from leadership, I am not leaving politics. There are many issues I care deeply about and hope to champion in future. One of these is the promise, the national mission so close to my heart, to improve the life chances of care experienced young people and ensure they grow up, nurtured and loved. My commitment to these young people will be lifelong. And obviously there is independence. Winning independence is the cause I have dedicated a lifetime to. It is a cause I believe in with every fibre of my being. And it is a cause I am convinced is being won. I intend to be there as it is won every step of the way.
Lastly, there will be time in the days to come for me and others to reflect on what has been achieved during my time as First Minister. I’m pretty certain there will be plenty of commentary on my mistakes as well. There is so much that I am proud of. But there is always so much more to be done. I look forward to watching with pride as my successor picks up the baton.
There will also be time in the days to come for me to say thank you to a very, very long list of people without whom I would not have lasted a single day in this job, let alone eight years. I won’t do so today. I might inadvertently forget someone, or perhaps more likely start to cry. But there are a couple of exceptions. Firstly, my husband and family. Few people understand the price families of politicians pay for the jobs we choose to do. Mine have been my rock throughout. And of course the SNP since I was 16 years old. You have been my extended family. Thank you for the honour of being your leader. And it seems to me that eight emphatic election victories in eight years isn’t a bad record together. Finally, and above all, the people of this beautiful, talented, diverse – at times disputatious – but always wonderful country, we faced the toughest of times together. I did everything I could to guide us through that time. Often from my very familiar podium in St Andrew’s house. In return I was sustained through that period by a wave of support from you that I will remember and value for the rest of my life. So to the people of Scotland, to all of the people of Scotland, whether you voted for me or not, please know that being your First Minister has been the privilege of my life. Nothing. Absolutely nothing I do in future will ever come anywhere close. Thank you. From the very bottom of my heart.”
Organising your resources
You should now have a good list of expressions that you can group into categories. How about a table like this? I’ve filled in a few phrases, just to start you off. You can do the rest.
|Introductory words||what we’ve achieved||reasons for resignation||it’s been a privilege||it’s time to go||what happens next||thanks|
|– I am very proud to stand here as the first woman…||– there is so much that I am proud of||– let me set out my reasons|
-there has been a lot of speculation…
– I have wrestled with this decision…
|– it has been the privilege of my life||– in my head and in my heart, I know the time to go is now||– as my successor picks up the baton|
-while I am stepping down from the leadership, I am not leaving politics
|– thank you from the very bottom of my heart|
You may of course have more or fewer columns, or slightly different ones.
Now, at last, it’s your turn!
Use your table of expressions to write your Prime Minister/President’s resignation speech. You could keep it quite general, or if you like, brainstorm or research the main achievements of their time in office, to make it more realistic.
If you like, film or record yourself and post your recording in the RyR group!
Finally, here’s an article about how to resign from politics while keeping your dignity!
Interested in more material like this to help you boost your retour? Why not join my monthly membership site, Rock your Retour, with tailor-made written materials and weekly live group classes (online)?
Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills.
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