Independently minded

Written by Kate Shannon on 13 November 2014 in Inside Politics

Nicola Sturgeon will be Scotland’s First Minister and leader of a party with over 83,000 members

 

Speaking at the launch of her bid to become leader of the SNP and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said she was putting herself forward for two “simple” reasons: she wanted to serve her party and country, and she believed she was the best person for the job. As it happened, members of the SNP agreed. No-one came forward to contest her and she will become the new leader on Friday at her party’s conference in Perth and then subsequently First Minister of Scotland.

SNP Business Convener Derek Mackay MSP said: “I am delighted that Nicola Sturgeon will succeed Alex Salmond as Leader of the SNP. She will be a fantastic new leader of both the party and our country. She will build on the substantial legacy and extraordinary achievements of Alex Salmond as the longest serving First Minister, and make her own mark as she leads Scotland forward. The party is in great heart and relishing the opportunities ahead.”

Amid the praise and commendation of her fellow party members, in the past couple of weeks Sturgeon has been travelling around the country, speaking to new SNP members at a series of large events. At the first of these rallies in Edinburgh, she said: “We must respect the views of those who voted No. We must understand their reasons - even if we don’t agree with them - and resolve to be more persuasive in the future. And we mustn’t allow our disagreement on independence to blind us to the many things we all agree on.

“As First Minister, I will work to build as much unity and common cause in our country as I can. For me, One Scotland is not just a slogan - it is a principle that should guide us as a nation. There are many who voted No in September who are open to persuasion in future. I know a few who have changed their minds already. But I also know there are those who will never be persuaded of the case for independence. Their belief in the union is as strong as our belief in independence.

I hope that my candidacy, should it succeed, will send a strong message to every girl and every young woman in Scotland – no matter your background or what your want to achieve in life, in Scotland in 2014, there is no glass ceiling on ambition

“I respect that. And as First Minister, I will serve them too. Our differing views on independence don’t mean that there aren’t many other aspirations that we share for our country.”
Born in Irvine in 1970, Sturgeon joined the SNP aged 16 and has been campaigning for Scottish independence ever since. Speaking to Holyrood last year, she said: “I suppose if you had asked me when I was 16 years old, firstly, could I imagine myself as Deputy First Minister with a referendum in a year, I wouldn’t have believed it, but had you then asked me, did I think I would have the weight of the Westminster establishment against me in the event of that being the case, I would have said ‘absolutely’.”

Having been involved in frontline politics for so long, Sturgeon has grown up in the full glare of the media spotlight. She is often perceived as cool and even a bit stern, but those who know her say this is far from the truth. As she told Holyrood previously, she wished she could tell her 16-year-old self to smile a lot more.

Prior to her election to the Scottish Parliament, she worked as a solicitor at Drumchapel Law Centre and was first elected as an MSP representing the city of Glasgow in 1999. During her time as Deputy First Minister, she has often been seen as the perfect foil to her boss, Alex Salmond, who provoked strong reactions - both negative and positive - among members of the public and who has been seen as less popular with women. 

A serious and measured politician, Sturgeon is a formidable figure in the Holyrood debating chamber, both as cabinet secretary responsible for health and then investment and cities. However, like anyone, she is not infallible. One of her deepest regrets was when she was exposed as having lobbied the courts for a constituent charged with fraud not to be given a custodial sentence; a major incident which, in the end, she defused by throwing up her hands and giving parliament a quick and heartfelt apology.

Over the years she has often been branded a ‘nippy sweetie’ by her detractors, a phrase as offensive as it is untrue, and suffered constant scrutiny about her appearance. However, when she becomes First Minister, she will make history as the first woman to take on the job. Gender inequality is still prevalent across Scotland and Sturgeon knows this as much as anyone. In her launch speech she said: “I hope that my candidacy, should it succeed, will send a strong message to every girl and every young woman in Scotland – no matter your background or what your want to achieve in life, in Scotland in 2014, there is no glass ceiling on ambition.”

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