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Nicola Sturgeon was born on 19 July 1970 in the North Ayrshire town of Irvine. Nicola Sturgeon became an SNP member at the tender age of 16, having been inspired by a high-ranking female politician – but not in the way you might think. It was Margaret Thatcher.
She told BBC Radio Four’s Women’s Hour: “Thatcher was prime minister, the economy wasn’t in great shape, lots of people around me were looking at a life or an immediate future of unemployment and I think that certainly gave me a strong sense of social justice and, at that stage, a strong feeling that it was wrong for Scotland to be governed by a Tory government that we hadn’t elected.”
But, unlike the many who chose to support Labour – then the dominant force in Scottish politics – she was persuaded by the argument that that nation would only truly prosper with independence.
From school Nicola went on to study law at Glasgow University. She has often commented that but for free tuition she would never have been able to further her education. For this reason she has resolved that for as long as she is in office the SNP will never re-introduce fees.
After graduating Nicola took on a post as a solicitor at Drumchapel Law Centre. However the draw of politics was never far away and in the 1992 Westminster election she stood as the SNP candidate for Glasgow and Shettleston, the youngest candidate in Scotland at the time.
Nicola’s first election victory came at the age of 29 when she was elected as a city of Glasgow MSP in 1999. She was re-elected as a Glasgow MSP in 2003. During the SNP’s time in opposition she was spokesperson for Education, Justice and Health.
2007 saw the SNP make the breakthrough to form a minority government, with Nicola herself wresting the Glasgow Govan constituency from Labour. In the SNP’s first period of power she served as Scotland’s Deputy First Minister and Health Secretary. Nicola delivered on two key pledges in the SNP’s manifesto – the reversal of proposed closures of two A&E departments by Labour and the introduction of free prescriptions.
In 2011, following boundary changes, Nicola stood as the SNP candidate for Glasgow Southside, which included most of her former Govan constituency. She was elected with 54 per cent of the vote.
With the independence referendum looming in 2013 Nicola was handed a key role, drafting the White Paper, Scotland’s Future, and becoming a leading figure in the Yes campaign.
Leader and First Minister
Nicola Sturgeon became SNP Leader on November 14, 2014 and was sworn in as First Minister on November 20, 2014.
Despite the disappointment of the referendum defeat the SNP’s membership surged, with tens of thousands of new members signing up – and Nicola Sturgeon was to ride this wave of support to new highs.
The 2015 general election results were unprecedented – with the SNP taking 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland.
The trend continued in the 2016 Holyrood elections, with the SNP romping to victory and a historic third term of office.
Nicola Sturgeon is the first female First Minister and the first female leader of any of the devolved UK administrations.
She appointed the first gender-balanced Cabinet in the UK, and her government is internationally recognized for its global responsibility, progressiveness and social conscience.
Her government has delivered Scotland’s baby box, made Scotland’s tax system more progressive, and is leading the world by example on period poverty and alcohol pricing.
In the parliament’s early days, Ms Sturgeon had a reputation for being too serious, which partly earned her the title “nippy sweetie” – but friends and rivals alike are at pains to point out her lighter side.
Fiona Hyslop, another long-serving SNP activist who is now Scotland’s culture secretary, attested to Ms Sturgeon’s strong sense of humour.
Recalling Ms Sturgeon in her 20s, Ms Hyslop, said: “She was always quite guarded, to make sure that she didn’t do or say anything that perhaps would cause difficulty later.
“So she was always, in that sense, very sensible – but good fun.”
One of her biggest political opponents, Michael Moore, who often found himself working with Ms Sturgeon during his time as Scottish secretary, jovially recalls her rehearsing Mandarin on the Edinburgh Airport runway while awaiting the arrival of the pandas from China.
The dream shall never die
The referendum itself, on 18 September 2014, was a massive disappointment for everyone on the side of independence. They were beaten by 55% to 45%.
It was a severe blow for Ms Sturgeon – she told reporters she was “deeply disappointed” as the result became clear, albeit “exhilarated” by the campaign – but it was ultimately one which would propel her to the top of Scottish politics.
Within hours of the final result being confirmed, Alex Salmond announced he would step down as first minister and leader of the SNP.
Ms Sturgeon was immediately tipped as the natural successor; she said she could “think of no greater privilege than to seek to lead the party I joined when I was just 16”.
Ultimately, there was no competition. More of a coronation, at the party’s conference that November – although the new SNP leader said she would have “relished” a contest.
She opened her premiership more like a rock star than a politician, embarking on a sold-out stadium tour amid a blaze of popular support. Party conferences and speech events followed suit, employing slick presentation to build Ms Sturgeon into an almost presidential figure.
And in the meantime, despite the disappointment of the referendum defeat the SNP’s membership surged, with tens of thousands of new members signing up – and Ms Sturgeon was to ride this wave of support to new highs.
The party had already been the biggest kid on the block in Scottish politics; it had won a Holyrood majority in 2011 and the most council seats in 2012. But with Ms Sturgeon at the helm the party truly became an electoral juggernaut, starting with the 2015 general election.
The results were unprecedented. They were stunning. Ms Sturgeon’s troops came close to sweeping the board entirely, taking 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland.
The swingometer went off the charts; huge Labour majorities were wiped out, with heavyweights including Douglas Alexander and Margaret Curran defenestrated – the former by a 20-year-old named Mhairi Black.
The trend continued in the 2016 Holyrood elections, with the SNP romping to victory while campaigning heavily on Ms Sturgeon’s personal popularity.
The cover of their manifesto simply bore a picture of the leader, and the single word “re-elect”.
It was another big victory. Not only did the SNP win more than a million votes and a record 59 of the 73 constituency seats, with a handful more from the top-up lists, the result gave Ms Sturgeon a “clear and unequivocal” personal mandate as first minister.
There was no repeat of the 2011 majority, but that had been almost a freak result; the SNP had broken the system by sweeping up both constituency and list seats. Because the party gained constituency seats in 2016, it was denied list seats in areas like Glasgow, where they won every first-past-the-post contest.
Just a few years earlier it had been unthinkable. From Shettleston to Springburn, Glasgow, once Labour’s great Scottish stronghold, had turned yellow.
The SNP later completed the electoral sweep of the city in the 2017 council elections.
Ms Sturgeon is normally characterised as a canny, relatively cautious politician; a thinker, far from the mould of her comparatively gung-ho predecessor at Bute House.
But when it came to Brexit and the chance of what quickly became known as “indyref2”, Ms Sturgeon threw caution to the wind.
Months of debate and megaphone diplomacy followed. Ms Sturgeon put forward a paper of proposals, which was roundly rejected. But it felt like it was all leading up to one thing.
Just as Theresa May was preparing to trigger the formal Brexit process, Ms Sturgeon dropped her bombshell: a bid for a second independence referendum.
From there, the two women traded constitutional blows at a dizzying pace.
Mrs May said (repeatedly) that “now is not the time” for indyref2. Ms Sturgeon sought and won the backing of Holyrood, and fired off a formal demand for a referendum. And then Mrs May called a shock general election.
In Edinburgh and London, it’s possible the stakes have never been higher for either leader.
In terms of her private life, the first minister is married to Peter Murrell – who is also chief executive of the SNP, making them perhaps the ultimate power couple of Scottish politics.
The pair exchanged vows in 2010, after meeting 15 years previously at an SNP youth weekend in Aberdeenshire.
That said, Ms Sturgeon still finds time to retreat from politics by pursuing her great love of reading, and watching X-Factor.
Her mum Joan – herself an SNP politician, serving at one stage as the Provost of North Ayrshire – joked: “She can relax – there’s always one eye on the phone, but I think she’s fairly relaxed.
“The phone is never switched off – many of my family can vouch for that.”
Expectations for the SNP under Ms Sturgeon are sky-high. Having swept Westminster, Holyrood and local council elections all within her first three years in the job, they are generally expected to win more or less every contest they enter.
And the leader’s personal brand is at the heart of this; most of the merchandise at SNP conferences bears some form of the “I’m with Nicola” slogan.
Indeed, the first minister has transcended the need for a surname even among opposition circles. Say “Nicola” to more or less anyone in Scotland, and they will know exactly who you mean.
All of which only makes her job harder.
Hers is now after all a third-term government, with 10 years in power under its belt. In no democracy could such an established power be universally popular.
And she is now leading the SNP into a snap general election campaign where they must defend nearly every seat in the country; a taller order can hardly be imagined.
But if her history is any guide, Nicola Sturgeon will relish the challenge.
- Nicola Sturgeon Biography and Profile (SNP / BBC / Politicoscope)