Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon (born 19 July 1970) is a Scottish politician serving as First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) since 2014. She is the first woman to hold either position. She has been a member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) since 1999, first as an additional member for the Glasgow electoral region, and as the member for Glasgow Southside (formerly Glasgow Govan) from 2007.


Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon in 2020 outside Edinburgh Castle.jpg
Sturgeon in 2020
First Minister of Scotland
Assumed office
20 November 2014
MonarchElizabeth II
DeputyJohn Swinney
Preceded byAlex Salmond
Leader of the Scottish National Party
Assumed office
14 November 2014
DeputyStewart Hosie
Angus Robertson
Keith Brown
Preceded byAlex Salmond
Deputy First Minister of Scotland
In office
17 May 2007 – 19 November 2014
First MinisterAlex Salmond
Preceded byNicol Stephen
Succeeded byJohn Swinney
Depute Leader of the Scottish National Party
In office
3 September 2004 – 14 November 2014
LeaderAlex Salmond
Preceded byRoseanna Cunningham
Succeeded byStewart Hosie
Ministerial offices
Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Capital Investment and Cities
In office
5 September 2012 – 19 November 2014
First MinisterAlex Salmond
Preceded byAlex Neil
Succeeded byKeith Brown
Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing
In office
17 May 2007 – 5 September 2012
First MinisterAlex Salmond
Preceded byAndy Kerr
Succeeded byAlex Neil
Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Glasgow Southside
Glasgow Govan (2007–2011)
Assumed office
3 May 2007
Preceded byGordon Jackson
Majority9,593 (38.5%)
Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Glasgow
(1 of 7 Regional MSPs)
In office
6 May 1999 – 3 May 2007
Personal details
Born
Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon

(1970-07-19) 19 July 1970 (age 51)
Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland
Political partyScottish National Party
Spouse(s)
(m. 2010)
Parents
  • Robin Sturgeon
  • Joan Kerr Ferguson
ResidenceBute House
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow
Cabinet1st 2nd 3rd
Signature
WebsiteFirst Minister of Scotland

A law graduate of the University of Glasgow, Sturgeon worked as a solicitor in Glasgow. After being elected to the Scottish Parliament, she served successively as the SNP's shadow minister for education, health, and justice. In 2004 she announced that she would stand as a candidate for the leadership of the SNP following the resignation of John Swinney. However, she later withdrew from the contest in favour of Alex Salmond, standing instead as depute (deputy) leader on a joint ticket with Salmond. Both were subsequently elected, and as Salmond was still an MP in the House of Commons, Sturgeon led the SNP in the Scottish Parliament as Leader of the Opposition from 2004 to 2007. The SNP won the highest number of seats in the Scottish Parliament in the 2007 election and Salmond was subsequently appointed first minister. He appointed Sturgeon as deputy first minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing. She was appointed as Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Capital Investment and Cities in 2012.

Following the defeat of the Yes Scotland campaign in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Salmond resigned and Sturgeon was elected unopposed as SNP leader in November 2014 and appointed as first minister.[1][2] Sturgeon led the SNP through the 2015 general election when it enjoyed a surge in support, recording a number of swings of over 30% from Labour, as it won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats and replaced the Liberal Democrats as the third-largest party in the British House of Commons. In the 2016 election, the SNP was returned as the largest single party in the Scottish Parliament but fell two seats short of a majority. Sturgeon secured a second term as first minister, forming an SNP minority government. In the 2016 UK referendum on EU membership, Scotland voted by 62% to remain in the European Union, despite Brexit receiving 52% of the vote across the UK.[a] After the vote to leave the EU, Sturgeon's government has repeatedly proposed a second referendum on independence. The SNP gained a seat in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, winning 64 seats, but fell one seat short of a majority. Sturgeon’s government subsequently entered a power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens. As First Minister, Sturgeon has been leading the Scottish Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland since 2020.

Early life

Birth and family

Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon[3] was born in Ayrshire Central Hospital in Irvine, on 19 July 1970.[4] She is the eldest of three daughters born to Joan Kerr Sturgeon (née Ferguson, born 1952), a dental nurse, and Robin Sturgeon (born 1948), an electrician.[5] Her family has some roots in North East England; her paternal grandmother was from Ryhope in what is now the City of Sunderland.[6] She grew up in Prestwick and Dreghorn. Her parents still live in the house she grew up in, which they bought from the local council under Margaret Thatcher's Right to Buy scheme.[7]

Education and legal career

She attended Dreghorn Primary School from 1975 to 1982 and Greenwood Academy from 1982 to 1988. She later studied law at the University of Glasgow, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) in 1992 and a Diploma in Legal Practice the following year.[8] During her time at the University of Glasgow she was active as a member of the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association and the Glasgow University Students' Representative Council.

Following her graduation, Sturgeon completed her legal traineeship at McClure Naismith, a Glasgow firm of solicitors, in 1995. After qualifying as a solicitor, she worked for Bell & Craig, a firm of solicitors in Stirling, and later at the Drumchapel Law Centre in Glasgow from 1997 until her election to the Scottish Parliament in 1999.[9]

Early political years

In an interview with the BBC's Woman's Hour, Sturgeon revealed that it was Margaret Thatcher who inspired her to enter politics, because, due to rising unemployment in Scotland at the time, she developed "a strong feeling that it was wrong for Scotland to be governed by a Tory government that we hadn't elected".[10]

Sturgeon joined the Scottish National Party (SNP) in 1986, having already become a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and quickly became the party's Youth Affairs Vice Convener and Publicity Vice Convener.[11][12] She first stood for election in the 1992 general election as the SNP candidate in the Glasgow Shettleston constituency, and was the youngest parliamentary candidate in Scotland, failing to win the seat.

Sturgeon also stood unsuccessfully as the SNP candidate for the Irvine North ward on Cunninghame District Council in May 1992, for the Baillieston/Mount Vernon ward on Strathclyde Regional Council in 1994, and for the Bridgeton ward on Glasgow City Council in 1995.[citation needed]

In the mid-1990s Sturgeon and Charles Kennedy went together on a political study visit to Australia.[13][14]

The 1997 general election saw Sturgeon selected to fight the Glasgow Govan seat for the SNP. Boundary changes meant that the notional Labour majority in the seat had increased substantially. However, infighting between the two rival candidates for the Labour nomination, Mohammed Sarwar and Mike Watson, along with an energetic local campaign,[citation needed] resulted in Glasgow Govan being the only Scottish seat to see a swing away from Labour in the midst of a Labour landslide nationwide. Sarwar did, however, win the seat with a majority of 2,914 votes.[15] Shortly after this, Sturgeon was appointed as the SNP's spokesperson for energy and education matters.

Member of the Scottish Parliament

Sturgeon stood for election to the Scottish Parliament in the first Scottish Parliament election in 1999 as the SNP candidate for Glasgow Govan.[16] Although she failed to win the seat, she was placed first in the SNP's regional list for the Glasgow region, and was thus elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament. During the first term of the Scottish Parliament, Sturgeon served as a member of the Shadow Cabinets of both Alex Salmond and John Swinney. She was Shadow Minister for Children and Education from 1999 to 2000. In the role she backed Labour's efforts to repeal Section 28 - a law that banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools. There was however significant public opposition to repeal and an unscientific postal vote on the issue - organised by SNP donor Brian Souter - suggested most Scots wanted to keep the clause. Acknowledging this, Sturgeon suggested: "That is why the SNP have urged a policy for many months that we believe can provide people with the necessary reassurance, by providing a statutory underpinning to the guidelines, and resolve this difficult debate. We believe that the value of marriage should be clearly referred to in the guidelines, without denigrating other relationships or children brought up in other kinds of relationship." The compromise had the support of Souter but an amendment to that effect was voted down by MSPs who expressed concerns it would stigmatise children from single parent and unmarried families.[17]

She also served as Shadow Minister for Health and Community Care from 2000 to 2003, and Shadow Minister for Justice from 2003 to 2004. She also served as a member of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee and the Health and Community Care Committee.[18]

Depute Leader and Leader of the Opposition

 
Sturgeon as Deputy First Minister speaking in Fort William, 2011

On 22 June 2004, John Swinney resigned as Leader of the SNP following poor results in the European Parliament election. His then-depute, Roseanna Cunningham, immediately announced her intention to stand for the leadership. The previous leader, Alex Salmond, announced at the time that he would not stand.[19] On 24 June 2004, Sturgeon announced that she would also be a candidate in the forthcoming election for the leadership, with Kenny MacAskill as her running mate.[20] The political columnist Iain Macwhirter declared that while she “didn't inspire great warmth”, she was “quick on her feet, lacks any ideological baggage and has real determination – unlike... Roseanna Cunningham”.[7]

However, once Cunningham emerged as the favourite to win,[7] Salmond announced that his intention to stand for the leadership; Sturgeon subsequently withdrew from the contest and declared her support for Salmond, standing instead as his running mate for the depute leadership. It was reported that Salmond had privately supported Sturgeon in her leadership bid, but decided to run for the position himself as it became apparent she was unlikely to beat Cunningham.[21] The majority of the SNP hierarchy lent their support to the Salmond–Sturgeon bid for the leadership, although MSP Alex Neil backed Salmond as leader, but refused to endorse Sturgeon as depute.[22]

The results of the leadership contest were announced on 3 September 2004, with Salmond and Sturgeon elected as Leader and Depute Leader respectively.[23] As Salmond was still an MP in the House of Commons, Sturgeon led the SNP at the Scottish Parliament until the 2007 election, when Salmond was elected as an MSP.[24]

As leader of the SNP in the Scottish Parliament, Sturgeon became a high-profile figure in Scottish politics and often clashed with First Minister Jack McConnell at First Minister's Questions. This included rows over the House of Commons' decision to replace the Trident nuclear weapon system, and the SNP's plans to replace council tax in Scotland with a local income tax.[25]

Deputy First Minister (2007–2014)

 
Official portrait as Deputy First Minister, 2007

Sturgeon defeated Gordon Jackson with a 4.7% swing to the SNP in the 2007 election in Glasgow Govan. The election resulted in a hung parliament, with the SNP the largest party by a single seat; the SNP subsequently formed a minority government. Sturgeon was appointed as the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing by First Minister Salmond. In the position she saw through party pledges such as scrapping prescription charges and reversing accident and emergency closures, she also became more widely known internationally for her handling of the 2009 flu pandemic.[26][27] She was supported in her role as Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing by Shona Robison MSP, the Minister for Public Health and Sport, and by Alex Neil MSP, the Minister for Housing and Communities.

At the 2011 election, the SNP won a large overall majority. Sturgeon was retained as Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing until a reshuffle one year later, when she was appointed as Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Capital Investment and Cities and an additional role overseeing the referendum on Scottish independence, essentially putting her in charge of the SNP's referendum campaign.[28]

In 2012 she pledged to build a high-speed railway line between Glasgow and Edinburgh by 2024, cutting journey times between the two cities to under 30 minutes.[29] Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would "not wait" for Westminster to build a high-speed line to Scotland. However, in 2016 the plan was abandoned and the Scottish Government blamed Westminister.[30]

In December 2012, Sturgeon said that she believed that independence would allow Scotland to build a stronger and more competitive country, and would change spending priorities to address "the scandal of soaring poverty in a country as rich as Scotland".[31]

While campaigning for a Yes vote in 2013, she told The Guardian that if Scots voted for the Union: "Will there be another referendum round the corner? No. We can't bind our successors, but we've made very clear our belief that constitutional referenda are once-in-a-generation events."[32]

 
Sturgeon, as Deputy First Minister, signs the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013

During the campaign, the European Commission said that if Scots decided to leave the United Kingdom, it would also mean leaving the European Union. Scotland would then have to reapply for EU membership and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso predicted this would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible".[33] In July 2014 Sturgeon said this would put at risk the right of EU citizens to continue living in Scotland: "There are 160,000 EU nationals from other states living in Scotland, including some in the Commonwealth Games city of Glasgow. If Scotland was outside Europe, they would lose the right to stay here.”[34][35]

On 19 September 2014, independence was rejected in the Scottish independence referendum, with 55.3% of the voters voting no and 44.7% voting yes.[36] Following the defeat of the Yes Scotland campaign, Salmond announced his resignation as First Minister and Leader of the SNP. Sturgeon immediately announced that she would be a candidate in the election to replace him, and received huge support from the SNP hierarchy.[37][38][39] Sturgeon said that there would be "no greater privilege" than to lead the SNP. On Salmond's resignation, Sturgeon said:

The personal debt of gratitude I owe Alex is immeasurable. He has been my friend, mentor and colleague for more than 20 years. Quite simply, I would not have been able to do what I have in politics without his constant advice, guidance and support through all these years. [...] I can think of no greater privilege than to seek to lead the party I joined when I was just 16. However, that decision is not for today.

Following the referendum defeat, Sturgeon said that "further devolution is the route to independence".[40] She also opined that Scottish independence was a matter of "when, not if".[41]

Leadership of the Scottish National Party

 
Sturgeon outside Bute House in Edinburgh upon her appointment as First Minister, 2014

On 24 September 2014, Sturgeon officially launched her campaign bid to succeed Salmond as Leader of the Scottish National Party at the November leadership election.[42][43] It quickly became apparent that no other candidate would be able to receive enough required nominations to run a credible leadership campaign.[44] During the speech launching her campaign, Sturgeon announced that she would resign as Depute Leader, triggering a concurrent depute leadership election; the MSPs Angela Constance and Keith Brown and the MP Stewart Hosie all nominated themselves to succeed Sturgeon as Depute Leader.[45][46]

Nominations for the SNP leadership closed on 15 October, with Sturgeon confirmed as the only candidate. SNP convener Derek Mackay publicly congratulated Sturgeon as de facto leader in waiting, saying that she would be "a fantastic new leader" for both the SNP and for Scotland.[47] On this date, Sturgeon also came out on top in a trust rating opinion poll, conducted for the SNP, which indicated that 54% of the Scottish population trusted her to "stand up for Scotland's interests".[48]

At a speech in Dundee's Caird Hall on 7 November, Sturgeon pledged to be "the most accessible First Minister ever" when she took over. She also promised to hold a monthly Facebook question and answer session with members of the public, regular town hall meetings and that the Scottish Cabinet would meet outside Edinburgh once every two months.[49]

Sturgeon was formally acclaimed as the first female Leader of the SNP on 14 November 2014 at the Autumn Conference in Perth, with Hosie as her depute. This also made her First Minister-Designate, given the SNP's absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament.[50] In her first speech as leader, Sturgeon said that it was "the privilege of her life" to lead the party she joined as a teenager.[51]

First Minister of Scotland

First term (2014–2016)

On 18 November 2014, Salmond formally resigned as First Minister of Scotland and the election for the new first minister took place the following day. Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, stood for election. The SNP's absolute majority made Sturgeon's election all but certain, and she received 66 votes, Davidson received 15 and there were 39 abstentions. On 20 November 2014, Sturgeon was formally sworn into office.[52][53] The same day, she was appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom and therefore granted the style 'The Right Honourable'.[54] On 21 November, she unveiled her Cabinet with a 50/50 gender balance, promoting Finance Secretary John Swinney to become her Deputy First Minister.[55]

2015 UK general election

Sturgeon's leadership was first tested in the 2015 UK general election. She took part in several Scottish and UK-wide TV election debates in the run up to the election and according to opinion polls was regarded to have had a successful performance.[56] The SNP went on to win a landslide victory in Scotland, with 56 out of 59 seats.[57] They received 50% of the vote share in Scotland and replaced the Liberal Democrats as the third largest party in the British House of Commons.[58]

2016 Scottish Parliament election

 
First meeting of the Second Sturgeon government

Sturgeon led the SNP through the 2016 Scottish Parliament election. She campaigned on a platform of freezing tax rates - dismissing Scottish Labour's call for tax rises on the wealthy to fund public services as "reckless and daft".[59] The SNP fell two seats short of securing another overall majority, but remained the largest party in the chamber, with more than double the seats of the next-largest party, the Scottish Conservatives.[60][61]

Second term (2016–2021)

Sturgeon was formally nominated for a second term on 17 May, defeating Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie by a vote of 63 to 5, with 59 members abstaining.[62] She formed her second cabinet and re-appointed Swinney as her deputy.

2016 EU membership referendum

The UK Government held the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum to decide the future of the United Kingdom's European Union membership, in which all 32 council areas in Scotland voted by a majority for the United Kingdom to remain a member of the EU. Across Scotland, 62% of voters backed the UK remaining a member of the EU, with 38% voting for the UK to leave. Overall 52% of voters in the United Kingdom voted for Brexit (leaving the EU), with 48% voting to remain.[63]

 
Sturgeon meets with David Cameron at 10 Downing Street

In response to the result, on 24 June 2016, Sturgeon said that Scottish Government officials would begin planning for a second independence referendum.[64][65] Sturgeon claimed that it was "clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union" and that Scotland had "spoken decisively" with a "strong, unequivocal" vote to remain in the European Union.[66] Sturgeon said it was "democratically unacceptable" that Scotland could be taken out of the EU "against its will".[67]

On 24 June, Sturgeon said she would communicate to all EU member states that Scotland had voted to stay in the EU.[68] An emergency Scottish cabinet meeting on 25 June agreed that the Scottish Government would seek to enter negotiations with the EU and its member states, to explore options to protect Scotland's place in the EU."[69][70] Sturgeon later said that while she believed in Scottish independence, her starting point in these discussions was to protect Scotland's relationship with the EU.[71] May's comments confirmed that the PM wanted the Scottish government to be "fully engaged" in the process.

Future referendum on independence

Sturgeon confirmed in June 2016 that the Scottish government had formally agreed to draft legislation to allow a second independence referendum to take place.[72] As the constitution is a reserved matter under the Scotland Act 1998, for a future referendum on Scottish independence to be legal under UK law, it would need to receive the consent of the British Parliament to take place.[73]

Prior to the day the Prime Minister triggered Article 50, formally allowing the process of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, the Scottish Parliament voted 69 to 59 in favour of another independence referendum.[74] By the end of that week, on 30 March 2017, Sturgeon wrote to the Prime Minister requesting a Section 30 order, formally devolving the responsibility and power to the Scottish Government to plan for and hold another referendum on Scottish Independence.[75] Previously, May and David Mundell, Secretary of State for Scotland, have both highlighted that as the negotiations begin with the European Union on the United Kingdom's withdraw, it is important for Scotland to work with the UK Government to get the best exit deal for both the United Kingdom and Scotland, stating that "now is not the time for another referendum".[76]

Following the 2017 UK general election, Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government would postpone legislation pertaining to the proposed second referendum on Scottish independence until at least autumn 2018, when it is believed that the outcome of Brexit negotiations should become clearer.[77]

European Union membership

In response to the UK-wide vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, the Scottish Government, headed by Sturgeon, launched the Scotland's Place in Europe document, a white paper setting out the Scottish Government's aims and wishes of Scotland's role in Europe post-Brexit. The paper was sent to the central British Government to be read by Prime Minister Theresa May.

In June 2017, Sturgeon criticised the approaches taken by both Theresa May and the British Government towards the Brexit approach, claiming that May "will struggle" as she is a "difficult person to build a rapport with". In the same interview, Sturgeon committed to no independence referendum being held prior to the terms of a UK wide Brexit deal being agreed and presented.[78]

With a view towards Brexit, Sturgeon demanded greater powers for the Scottish Parliament, arguing that Brexit is threatening Scotland's devolution settlement.[79] With London seeking to restrict immigration to the United Kingdom, she asserted that Scotland should be able to set its own immigration policy, as well as policies relating to employment and trade.[79]

2017 UK general election

 
Sturgeon meets with Prime Minister, Theresa May, at Bute House, 2016

Sturgeon kicked off her election campaign pledging that a strong result for the SNP would "reinforce" her mandate for a second independence referendum.[80] However, the SNP lost 21 seats in the 2017 United Kingdom general election in Scotland and the party's vote dropped by 13.7%, although they remained the biggest party in Scotland. Sturgeon admitted that these results were "bitterly disappointing" and acknowledged that her party's plans for a second referendum were 'undoubtedly' a factor in the election results.[81] It was the best result for the Scottish Conservatives since Margaret Thatcher and the party's campaign slogan, "We said No to independence. We meant it", resonated in areas that had voted strongly for the Union in 2014.[82] Observers also concluded that opposition to the EU's Common Fisheries Policy in coastal communities was a factor behind large swings to the Tories in North East seats previously held by nationalists for decades.[83][84]

Alex Salmond sexual harassment case

In January 2019, Sturgeon referred herself to an independent ministerial ethics body, which will lead to an investigation into her actions with respect to a sexual harassment case concerning allegations against Salmond. This followed her admitting that she had a secret meeting and subsequent phone call with Salmond about the Scottish government's allegations against him. She raised these with the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, Leslie Evans, two months later, rather than reporting them immediately, as she should if they constitute government matters (as per the ministerial code). Sturgeon argued that the meetings were SNP party matters, and thus not covered. The investigating panel consisted of Dame Elish Angiolini, a former Solicitor General for Scotland and lord advocate, and James Hamilton, a former director of public prosecutions in the Republic of Ireland.[85]

 
Sturgeon and Alex Salmond at A National Conversation, 2007

On 15 January 2019, the Scottish Parliament agreed to hold its own inquiry into the matter, the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints,[86] to investigate how the Government breached its own guidelines in its original investigation into the harassment claims against Salmond, and then lost a judicial review into their actions and had to pay over £500,000 to Salmond for legal expenses.[87][88] Sturgeon's husband, Peter Murrell, was called to this inquiry to give evidence on 8 December 2020.[89] Opposition parties criticised Sturgeon on disparity and contradictions between the narratives of Murrell and herself.[90]

Sturgeon initially told parliament that she had first heard of the complaints against Salmond when he told her of them at a meeting on 2 April 2018.[88] However, 18 months later, she revised her account, saying she had forgotten about an earlier meeting, on 29 March 2018, in which Salmond's former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein told her about the complaints.[88] Critics have described this as a possible breach of the ministerial code, which states that any minister who deliberately misleads parliament should resign.[88] The 29 March meeting was not recorded: meetings on government business are meant to be recorded, but Sturgeon has said this is because it was an SNP meeting.[88] In his evidence to the committee, Salmond said there was "no doubt" that Sturgeon had broken the ministerial code in not revealing the 29 March meeting sooner and in not recording what was really a meeting about government business.[88] Sturgeon denied any wrongdoing.[88] Documents and emails published on 2 March 2021 showed that two people supported Salmond's assertion that the meeting was convened as a government, not party, matter.[91] The publication also backed up Salmond's allegation that the identity of one of his accusers had been passed to his former chief of staff, contradicting Sturgeon's statement that "to the very best of my knowledge I do not think that happened".[91]

On 4 March 2021 Sturgeon answered questions over a period of eight hours from members of the Committee.[92] She was challenged on her Government's unlawful handling of the probe against Salmond and Labour's Deputy Leader Jackie Baillie asked her: “You have described these errors as 'catastrophic'. That's a strong word, tell me why then nobody has resigned? Nobody has taken responsibility of this, because at the heart of this two women have been let down.”[93] Sturgeon said she “deeply regretted” the mistakes her Government had made, while denying the existence of a conspiracy against Salmond.[94]

On 19 March 2021, it was reported that a majority of MSPs on the Committee had voted to affirm that Nicola Sturgeon misled the inquiry.[95] The MSPs concluded that it was "hard to believe" Sturgeon when she told Parliament she had not known about concerns of inappropriate behaviour against Salmond before November 2017. It also determined that Sturgeon gave an "inaccurate account" of what happened when she met Salmond at her home on 2 April 2018 and as such had misled the committee.[96] Subsequently, a representative for Sturgeon claimed that the committee were simply "smearing" the First Minister and being party-political.[97]

The following week James Hamilton's report cleared Sturgeon of breaking the ministerial code in a number of areas relating to her dealings with Salmond; while caveating that, “It is for the Scottish parliament to decide whether they were in fact misled.”[98] The Scottish Conservatives tabled a motion of no confidence in her as First Minister, a decision Sturgeon described as "bullying".[99] Holyrood Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, said that, "By misleading this Scottish Parliament, she misled the people of Scotland too. No First Minister who truly wanted to live up to the ideals of this parliament should feel able to continue in post after having been judged guilty of misleading it."[99] The motion was defeated by 65 votes to 31, with Greens MSPs voting with the Government, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats opted to abstain.[100][101]

Two of the civil servants who made complaints about Salmond later said they felt they had been "dropped" by the Scottish Government after it lost the judicial review against him, adding they feared their experiences would make it less likely people would make complaints in the future.[101] Labour MP Jess Phillips, a former employee of Women's Aid, accused Sturgeon of being "unprofessional with those women's lives" and said there had been a "litany of failures in professionalism and decency."[102]

2019 UK general election

 
UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, meets with Sturgeon at Bute House, 2019

Sturgeon led her party to a landslide victory in the 2019 United Kingdom general election in Scotland. The SNP won 48 seats, and came second place in the 11 others; their 45% of the vote yielded 80% of the seats in Scotland.[103] Among the election casualties was Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson, who lost her seat in East Dunbartonshire. Sturgeon was branded as "ungracious" when she was filmed by Sky News celebrating Swinson's defeat. Sturgeon apologised for being overexcited although expressed that she was celebrating Amy Callaghan's win.[104][105][106][107] In the wake of the results, Sturgeon said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has "no right" to stand in the way of another Scottish independence referendum after an "overwhelming" SNP election victory. She also said that the result "renews, reinforces and strengthens" the mandate for Indyref2.[108]

COVID–19 pandemic

 
Sturgeon addressing the nation at a Scottish Government daily COVID-19 briefing

The worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 occurred during Sturgeon's second term as First Minister. To contain and limit the number of affected people in Scotland, Sturgeon and the Scottish Government highlighted a number of measures advised by NHS Scotland, initially maintaining effective hand washing.[109] The first confirmed case of the virus in Scotland was announced on 1 March 2020, when a resident in Tayside had tested positive. In the following days, Sturgeon issued further advice and guidance as the number of positive cases began to increase, but had said that closures of public places such as schools and shops "would be reviewed".[109]

Initially, the Scottish Government resisted banning public events and on 12 March allowed 47,000 fans to attend a Rangers match at Ibrox, insisting that, “stopping mass gatherings [is] not the best way to contain this virus.”[110] However, on 18 March Sturgeon announced to the Scottish Parliament that all schools and nurseries in Scotland would close on 20 March to try and limit the spread of the virus.[111] On 23 March, Sturgeon issued a statement, placing Scotland on a "lockdown", limiting the reasons as to why people may leave their homes in an increase attempt to limit the spread of the virus, to protect the health of the population, as well as to ease the pressure the virus places on NHS Scotland services and workforce.[112] Since then restrictions have been frequently tightened, loosened and adapted in parts or all of Scotland to respond to developments in the situation.[113]

During the early stages of the pandemic 1,300 elderly hospital patients were transferred into care homes without receiving a negative coronavirus test result.[114] Many had been infected with the virus and ended up passing it on to other care home residents.[115] Over three thousand care home residents died from coronavirus[116] and Gary Smith, Scotland Secretary of the GMB, said the policy had turned “care homes into morgues”.[116] When asked by the BBC if the policy had been a mistake, Sturgeon said: "Looking back on that now, with the knowledge we have now and with the benefit of hindsight, yes."[117]

 
Sturgeon speaking virtually at the British-Irish Council Summit 2020

In April 2020 whistle-blowers in the NHS came forward to reveal that staff were being made to reuse dirty personal protective equipment (PPE) while at work. One nurse told STV, "[When we hear the government say supplies are fine] it's not frustrating, it's crushing. It is absolutely crushing. We feel we are being lied to."[118] Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament in July, "At no point within this crisis has Scotland run out of any aspect of PPE. We have worked hard to make sure that supplies are there, we’ve worked hard overcoming challenges that we have faced along the way."[119]

In February 2021 Audit Scotland published a report that concluded the Scottish Government had not prepared adequately for a pandemic. While it commended the authorities for preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed during the crisis, the watchdog also noted that recommendations from pandemic planning exercises in 2015, 2016 and 2018 had not been fully implemented. One particular problem it highlighted was that not enough had been done to ensure Scottish hospitals and care homes had enough personal protective equipment . Overall, it concluded that ministers "could have been better prepared to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic". Nicola Sturgeon said there were "lots of lessons to learn".[120][121]

In March 2021, the Court of Session declared that the Scottish Government's prohibition on communal worship, imposed during the pandemic, was unlawful.[122] This followed an open letter two months earlier, written by 200 church leaders to Sturgeon, warning her that the prohibition could be unlawful.[123]

In April 2021 Scotland's death toll from coronavirus passed 10,000.[124][125]

At a session of First Minister's Questions in June 2021, Sturgeon was asked about mistakes made early on in the pandemic and she replied: "If I could turn the clock back, would we go into lockdown earlier than we did? Yes, I think that is true."[110]

Drugs deaths crisis

In 2016 the Scottish Government cut direct funding to drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes from £69.2 million to £53.8 million - a drop of 22%.[126][127] At the time, Scottish Drugs Forum Chief Executive David Liddell said he was concerned that the cuts had "the potential to increase harm and drug-related deaths."[126] That year 867 Scots lost their lives to drugs - an increase of 23% on the previous year's figures - and the SNP insisted it was part of a trend seen across much Europe.[128] In December 2020 figures were released revealing that 1,264 people in Scotland had died from drug overdoses in 2019 - the highest number in Europe per head and more than double the number in 2014.[129] Sturgeon sacked her Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick and in April 2021 said of the crisis: "I think we took our eye off the ball."[130]

The crisis has particularly impacted the homeless in Scotland; 216 homeless people died in Scotland in 2019 - an increase of 11% on the previous year and of which over half (54%) were drug related.[131] Per head, Scotland's death rate among the homeless is the highest in Britain.[132]

In August 2021 the Scottish Government announced there had been 1,339 drug deaths in the previous year - a new record high.[133] Sturgeon described the figures as "unacceptable, each one a human tragedy",[134] while the Scottish Liberal Democrats said: "It was Nicola Sturgeon's choice to ignore this unfolding epidemic. Issuing apologies now is too late for thousands of people. The victims of drugs and their families were failed. It is a scar on the conscience of this Scottish Government."[135]

Education

In 2015 Sturgeon said that she planned to make education her "defining priority" while in office.[136] In particular, she said she hoped to focus on closing the attainment gap between the richest and poorest children in Scottish schools, telling journalists: “Let me be clear – I want to be judged on this. If you are not, as First Minister, prepared to put your neck on the line on the education of our young people then what are you prepared to. It really matters.”[137]

In 2021 Audit Scotland concluded that, "Progress on closing the poverty-related attainment gap between the most and least deprived school pupils has been limited"[138] and fell short of the Government's aims.[139] In some local authorities the attainment gap between the richest and poorest students had widened.[139]

Transgender rights

 
Sturgeon leading Pride parade at Glasgow Pride 2018

Ahead of the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, Sturgeon pledged to review and reform the way that trans people change their legal gender.[140] However, proposed changes to Scotland's Gender Recognition Act that would have allowed people to change their identity through self-identification, rather than a medical process, were paused in June 2019.[141] Critics of the changes within the SNP had accused Sturgeon of being "out of step" on the issue, and expressed concerns that the reforms would be open to abuse and allow predatory men into women's spaces.[141][142] The Scottish Government said it had paused the legislation in order to find "maximum consensus" on the issue[141] and commentators described the issue as having divided the SNP like no other, with many dubbing the debate a "civil war".[143][144][145]

In April 2020 the reforms were again delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.[146]

In January 2021 a former trans officer in the SNP's LGBT wing, Teddy Hopes, quit the party, claiming it was one of the “core hubs of transphobia in Scotland".[147] Large numbers of LGBT activists followed suit and Sturgeon released a video message in which she said that transphobia is "not acceptable" and pledged to do "everything I can to change that impression and persuade all of you that the SNP is your party and that you should come home where you belong."[148][149]

In August 2021, following a power-sharing deal with the Scottish Greens, Sturgeon pledged to introduce a Bill to simplify the legal recognition of trans people.[150]

In September 2021, Sturgeon was accused of shutting down debate about gender reforms, after she heckled Murdo Fraser in parliament when he mentioned the Women's Rights Demo organised by feminist campaign group For Women Scotland, and when she described concerns about gender recognition reform as "not valid".[151][152]

 
Sturgeon and her newly appointed cabinet at Bute House, May 2021

2021 Scottish Parliament election

Sturgeon led the SNP into the 2021 Scottish Parliament election on a manifesto promise to hold a second independence referendum after the COVID-19 pandemic was over.[153] In the election, the SNP won 64 of the 129 seats contested.[154] The SNP won a fourth consecutive election, albeit short of an overall majority, with a record number of votes on both the constituency and regional vote[failed verification] as well as increasing their share of the constituency vote and making a net gain of one seat.[155][156]

Third term: 2021–present

Sturgeon was nominated for the post of First Minister by a vote of the Scottish Parliament on 18 May, defeating Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie by 64 votes to 31 and 4 respectively. This win resulted in Sturgeon becoming the first First Minister in the history of the Scottish Parliament to form a third government. Shortly after being elected, Sturgeon appointed John Swinney to the newly created position of Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery.[157]

Power-sharing agreement

 
Sturgeon with Scottish Greens co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater announcing the Bute House Agreement in August 2021

In August 2021, Sturgeon and Scottish Green Party co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater announced a power-sharing agreement between their parties. There was no agreement on oil and gas exploration, but the government now argued that it had a stronger case for a national independence referendum.[158] As part of the agreement, the Green Party co-leaders would be nominated to serve as ministers.[159]

Climate crisis

In August 2021 Sturgeon wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, asking him whether the development of the Cambo oil field west of Shetland should be "reassessed in light of the severity of the climate emergency".[160] The letter represented a significant shift in policy for the SNP, which had historically been a strong supporter of the oil and gas industry; the party's blueprint for an independent Scotland in 2013 was predicated on tax revenue earned from domestic oil production, while Sturgeon had predicted in the run up to the referendum that, "We’re on the verge of another North Sea bonanza".[161]

The announcement was welcomed by the Scottish Green party but Greenpeace criticised Sturgeon for not coming out more strongly against the oil field. “The First Minister must stop hiding behind Boris Johnson," a spokesperson for the organisation said. "If she wants to show leadership on climate she must clearly say: stop Cambo.”[162]

International relations

 
Sturgeon addresses the United Nations, 2017

While foreign policy remains a reserved matter,[163] Sturgeon has undertaken a number of visits to Europe, North America and Asia to promote Scotland as a place of investment and Scottish businesses to trade and do business with.[164][165][166] Sturgeon has committed to strengthening links between Scotland and the African continent.[167]

In response to the Brexit vote, to discuss Scotland's interests, Sturgeon travelled to Brussels to meet with both Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission as well as Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament.[168][169]

United States

Sturgeon was highly critical of Donald Trump and his policies during the 2016 United States presidential election and had publicly backed his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.[170] Sturgeon highlighted her disapproval of his language and views relating to sexism and misogyny, and stated upon Trump's victory that she hopes "Trump turns out to be a president different to the one he was during his campaign and reaches out to those who felt vilified by his campaign".[171]

Sturgeon had previously stripped Trump of his ambassadorial role for Scottish businesses with the Scottish Government in the aftermath of Trump's views of an outright ban of Muslims from entering the United States. Sturgeon claimed following comments made by Trump in relation to Muslims entering the United States that he was "not fit" for the ambassadorial role with the Scottish Government.[172]

Spain

In the run up to the 2017 Catalan independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon offered her own personal backing and that of the Scottish Government to Catalonia in the holding of a referendum.[173] The Government of Spain criticised Sturgeon, claiming she had "totally misunderstood" the situation in Spain and Catalonia.[173] Sturgeon highlighted that Spain should follow "the shining example" that was created as part of the Edinburgh Agreement between the Scottish and British Governments that allowed Scotland to hold a legally binding referendum.[174]

Political views

 
Sturgeon at the #StopTrident rally at Trafalgar Square, February 2016.

Sturgeon has campaigned against replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system.[175] She has at times been a critic of austerity, saying that the UK government's "austerity economics" is "morally unjustifiable and economically unsustainable".[176] However, in 2018 she endorsed her party's Growth Commission report that pledged to reduce an independent Scotland's budget deficit as a percentage of GDP[177] - something the Institute for Fiscal Studies concluded meant "continued austerity".[178][179]

Sturgeon has also campaigned on women's rights and gender equality, and is a self-described feminist; she has argued that Scotland's feminist movement is not simply symbolic, but "sends a powerful signal about equality".[180] She has hailed Scottish feminist economist Ailsa McKay as one of her inspirations.[181]

Sturgeon is a constitutional monarchist, telling journalists that it is "a model that has many merits".[182] On the day Queen Elizabeth II become Britain's longest reigning monarch, Sturgeon travelled with her to open the Borders Railway and told a crowd of well-wishers: "She [The Queen] has carried out Her duties with dedication, wisdom and an exemplary sense of public service. The reception She has received today, demonstrates that that admiration and affection is certainly felt here in Scotland."[183]

Awards and acknowledgements

Sturgeon won the Scottish Politician of the Year Award in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2019.[184]

Forbes magazine ranked Sturgeon as the 50th most powerful woman in the world in 2016 and 2nd in the United Kingdom.[185][186] In 2015, BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour assessed Sturgeon to be the most powerful and influential woman in the United Kingdom.[187]

Personal life

 
Sturgeon attended Greenwood Academy, Dreghorn from 1982–1988

Sturgeon lives in Glasgow with her husband, Peter Murrell, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the SNP. The couple have been in a relationship since 2003. They announced their engagement on 29 January 2010,[188] and were married on 16 July 2010 at Òran Mór in Glasgow.[189]

Her mother Joan was the SNP Provost of North Ayrshire council, where she was councillor for the Irvine East ward from 2007 until 2016.[190] In 2016, Sturgeon disclosed that she had miscarried five years previously.[191]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ In the Brexit referendum, a majority of voters in every local authority area in Scotland voted to remain in 2016.

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External links

Scottish Parliament
Constituency created Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Glasgow

19992007
Succeeded by
Bob Doris
Preceded by
Gordon Jackson
Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Glasgow Govan

20072011
Constituency abolished
Constituency created Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Glasgow Southside

2011–present
Incumbent
Party political offices
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Roseanna Cunningham
Depute Leader of the Scottish National Party
2004–2014
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Stewart Hosie
Preceded by
Alex Salmond
Leader of the Scottish National Party
2014–present
Incumbent
Political offices
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Nicol Stephen
Deputy First Minister of Scotland
2007–2014
Succeeded by
John Swinney
Preceded by
Andy Kerr
Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing
2007–2012
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Alex Neil
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Alex Neil
Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Capital Investment and Cities
2012–2014
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Keith Brown
Preceded by
Alex Salmond
First Minister of Scotland
2014–present
Incumbent
Order of precedence in Scotland
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The Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury
as President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland
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