Sturgeon launches SNP leadership bid
Nicola Sturgeon today launched her bid to replace Alex Salmond as First Minister by warning Westminster parties’ risk a public backlash should substantial further powers not be delivered to Scotland.
Within hours of defeat being confirmed last week, Alex Salmond announced he would be stepping down as SNP leader and First Minister from November.
His deputy of seven years remains the frontrunner for the post, though she told a press conference this morning she would “absolutely relish” a contest for the top job.
Launching her leadership bid in Glasgow, Sturgeon said she is “more convinced than ever that we will become an independent country”, though her priority at present was to push for “real and meaningful change” via a process of transferring more powers to the Scottish Parliament.
“I’m not preparing for another referendum, we‘ve just had a referendum,” she said. “But one thing I think is very important for politicians to understand, myself included, is that the question of if and when there will be another referendum will be dictated by circumstances and the mood of the public.”
Sturgeon warned the UK parties will encounter a “very angry reaction indeed from the public” if promises on substantial further powers made in the latter stages of the referendum campaign are not delivered upon.
“There are other circumstances that lie ahead in the next few years but it is impossible at this juncture to look ahead and predict with certainty,” she told gathered press at Glasgow Concert Hall.
“The in/out European referendum, for example. So circumstances will dictate this. But my focus right now is in respecting the outcome of the referendum and moving forward to ensure the implementation of what I think is the will of the people as expressed in it.”
However, Sturgeon, who has served as deputy first minister since the SNP came to power in 2007, refused to be drawn on whether, under her leadership, the party’s 2016 Holyrood manifesto would contain a commitment to hold another referendum.
“If there is a commitment to a referendum in a manifesto of the Scottish National Party at an election and we win that election then that is a mandate for a referendum,” said Sturgeon. “I am not standing here writing the 2016 manifesto and I am not going to stand at this juncture and say what will be and what will not be in a manifesto for the 2016 election. But anything that is in any party’s manifesto, it is a mandate to deliver that policy.”
Amid confusion earlier this week on the route via which Scotland could become independent, the Deputy First Minister made clear that the only course possible is through another referendum.
“Scotland will only become independent if the people of Scotland vote for independence in a referendum,” she said. “There is no shortcut to independence.
“I believe that if the UK parties honour their promise of the last few days of the referendum campaign we’ll travel a significant distance to independence in the form of more powers, but for Scotland to become an independent country that will require people to vote for it in a referendum.”
Sturgeon said the party and the Scottish Government “will be full, active, genuine and constructive participants” in a dialogue on further powers for Holyrood, now being led by Lord Smith of Kelvin.
“There will be no sitting on the sidelines,” she said. “But let me be equally clear what I believe Scotland expects of that process in return. First, that it is open and participative – in short, that it lives up to the democratic example of the referendum. It cannot be left to the Westminster establishment.
“The role of the Scottish Parliament must be respected and the voice of the Scottish people listened to. The days of back room deals are over.”
An early indication of “good faith” would be for Westminster to “immediately” pass control of Scottish Parliament elections to Holyrood to ensure 16 and 17 year olds are able to vote in further elections. Sturgeon confirmed she will write to the Prime Minister today to agree to the change.
“Second, this process must deliver new powers for Scotland capable of making a real difference to people’s lives,” she added. “We must seize the opportunity to design a comprehensive and coherent package that will allow us to create jobs, ensure proper fiscal accountability, protect our public services, deliver fair social security and tackle the inequality that scars our nation.
“It must be a package that maximises devolution in substance not just in rhetoric. That is what I believe the majority of people of this country now want.”
The Glasgow Southside MSP – who was introduced at Glasgow’s Concert Hall by Cabinet Secretary for Sport, Equalities and Pensioner Rights, Shona Robison – confirmed that she will not be endorsing a deputy leader candidate akin to the joint ticket that she and Salmond acquired the SNP leadership under a decade ago.
She acknowledged the personal debt she owes Salmond is “immeasurable” but added she would be “my own person and set my own course.
“We would not have come so far as a nation without Alex’s vision, tenacity and statesmanyship. But the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow require a different approach. They will demand the ability, not just to argue a case with determination and conviction, but also to reach out, to work with others and seek common cause on the issues that unite us.”
Sturgeon, who would become Scotland’s first female First Minister if elected, also said she hoped her candidacy “should it succeed, will send a strong message to every girl and every young woman in Scotland – no matter your background or what you want to achieve in life, in Scotland in 2014 there is no glass ceiling on ambition”.