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Has the job of a politician become too brutal?

The recent resignation of Nicola Sturgeon sparks questions about the future of representative democracy in the 21st century

By Tiina Heikkinen


Photo courtesy via Wikimedia Commons


If the past year did not offer enough chaotic turns on the UK political front, Nicola Sturgeon is now resigning as the first minister of Scotland. After eight years of service, on the 15th of February Sturgeon announced her decision to step down at a moment she felt was right “in her head and her heart”. The announcement comes less than a month after another prominent figure in 21st century politics, Jacinda Ardern, publicised her decision to step down from her role as the prime minister of New Zealand.


What both Sturgeon and Ardern have in common is that they became known to many as the figureheads leading their countries through crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Sturgeon was also in power when Russia invaded Ukraine, the cost-of-living crises deepened in the UK and the NHS started showing signs of a potential collapse. In addition to the ongoing crises, both Sturgeon and Ardern became leaders during a time of unprecedent public pressure made possible by social media and the constant spotlight and communication channels it has provided.

Being a politician has never been easy, but it is hard to imagine the constant information flow making it any easier: if this is the direction the politician’s role is headed to, who will be able to handle that kind of excruciating pressure in the future?

Although Ardern stated that she did not leave her position because the job was hard, she did say that she knew what the position would take and that she “no longer [has] enough in the tank to do it justice”. Sturgeon, on the other hand, still said she had “plenty left in the tank” but that the time demands, near complete lack of privacy and the increased “brutality” of modern politics were the leading factors in her decision.


These recent resignations raise questions about the nature of the job of a politician in the crises-ridden 2020’s. The growing demands, or brutality, of a public life include death threats and 24/7 spotlight that any average person would find deeply distressing to the psyche (especially in a role where the central part of one’s job is to literally keep up the appearances and ‘suck it up’). Being a politician has never been easy, but it is hard to imagine the constant information flow making it any easier. This begs a very fundamental and important question: if this is the direction the politician’s role is headed to, who will be able to handle that kind of excruciating pressure in the future?

It is important to point out that politicians as individuals can only do so much

As a universal rule of thumb, any position that offers power, wealth or other privileges often attracts people who are more interested in the perks than the supposed description of their job whether it is decision-making, policing or guarding the entrance at the local night club. It is therefore relevant to point out that revolutionaries are often found far outside of political circles of representative democracy. With the demands of the job getting increasingly more brutal, however, will the few with aspirations to make a change and deliver their promises be too intimidated to run for political roles? If so, who does that leave to desire such a position, especially after the role has been publicly announced to be brutal to your private life and mental health?

Maybe it is worth reflecting on whether the recent developments in history have gone to show that a public job can be too much for an average human, and is therefore not necessarily the best to serve the interest of the public

It is important to point out that politicians as individuals can only do so much. Forces outside of representative democracy such as corporate lobbying render politics, for many, absolutely useless by almost all standards when it comes to addressing – or let alone fixing – structural issues such as poverty, climate change or national health crises. At the end of the day, however, you have to admit that in the current frame of reference some turds are shinier than others. Would you rather have a human with drive and sensitivity represent people and make decisions that affect the lives of millions, or would you be happy knowing that all who would ever even consider applying would be only after their own interest?


Maybe it is worth reflecting on whether the recent developments in history have gone to show that a public job can be too much for an average human, and is therefore not necessarily the best to serve the interest of the public. Sturgeon most definitely seems to have gone through some big questions about the time she can be present for her family amidst a highly stressful, public job. In the end her speech can be boiled down to a fairly simple core: politicians are (sometimes lizards, yes, but also) humans with one finite life that only they can choose how to spend. Would you rather spend those finite years playing ball with your nephew or clearing death threats out of your Twitter messages?

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