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Nicola Sturgeon: (illustration by Michael Daley)

It was inevitable to everyone, except perhaps the man himself, that Alex Salmond would have to stand down if he lost the independence referendum. Equally, it was just as inevitable that Nicola Sturgeon would succeed him as SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland.

In the dark watches of his defeat in the wee sma’ hours of September 19, it didn’t at first look as if Mr Salmond would go quietly given his defiant demeanour at his party’s wake in an Edinburgh hall. A few hours later, however, he was gone and Ms Sturgeon was in. She may have been in charge, at least nominally, of the Yes campaign but nobody complained if she let Salmond take the blame for defeat.

We shall probably never know if my hunch is correct that he was given the slightest of nudges but if so it would have been entirely in keeping with the character of this hugely ambitious lady. After all, she had long ago eclipsed all the other rivals for the top job and even fired two of them from her first Scottish cabinet—Mike Russell at education and Kenny MacAskill at justice; and another former party leader, John Swinney, was content to accept the post as her deputy. The former hero of the party’s Left, Alex Neill, who succeeded her in the health portfolio, was demoted as the new leader began to pack her cabinet with—often female—friends and allies.

This streak of ruthlessness is the one thing that London politicians will find most remarkable in their forthcoming dealings with this 44-year-old ex-solicitor and daughter of an electrician. For most of her political career Sturgeon has been in charge of the SNP’s, and latterly the Scottish Government’s, health policy. Her officials complained that she gave short shrift to staff who brought niggles to her ministerial desk. It is probably for this reason that major problems have arisen in Scotland’s health service, where in spite of spending being roughly 20 per cent more per capita than the rest of the UK, A&E waiting times are worse than those in England.

Those who dismiss her by referring to her by her old “Wee Nippy” nickname—a reference to her acerbic style—do her a disservice. Although she can be engaging company in a social setting, she is a formidable political operator who springs from the same ferociously competitive Glasgow University debating society as the likes of John Smith, Donald Dewar and Charles Kennedy and has made an immediate mark on the complexion of domestic Scottish politics, by swinging it significantly to the Left.

This is undoubtedly what Westminster can expect from her if her enlarged army of SNP members take their seats in the Commons ready to do, at the very least, a “confidence and supply” deal to put Labour into government even if the Conservatives win most seats. The First Minister of Scotland will then help to impose what she calls “progressive” policies on the rest of the United Kingdom. Much of these would revolve around ending all austerity measures, imposing higher taxes on the middle classes and stopping cuts in the welfare budget. She has already succeeded in pushing Scottish Labour ever leftwards as it seeks to recapture its traditional heartlands from the Nats and she is supremely confident of doing the same in England.

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Anonymous
May 7th, 2015
9:05 AM
All lawyers are overrated. They're nowt but licensed thieves, operating behind the saction of the state.

Iain
April 18th, 2015
10:04 PM
Let me get right: Alan Cochrane, a journalist, a man who couldn't even get to university, thinks that Nicola Sturgeon, a lawyer, is 'overrated'?

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