The new SNP leader exhibits many of her predecessor's best qualities, but can she unite her party's potentially contradictory support base?by David Torrance / November 18, 2014 / Leave a comment
Nicola Sturgeon, still only 44 years old, has been tipped as a future leader of the SNP for more than half her life. Speaking at her nomination meeting in Glasgow Shettleston back in 1992 the Nationalist politician Kay Ullrich made that prediction, as did scores of others when she became an MSP seven years later.
Refreshingly, Sturgeon has always been up front about the ambition to lead her party—“Of course I wouldn’t rule myself out,” she told me in 2003—and this week she passed the final hurdle in order to do so, becoming the Scottish Parliament’s chosen successor to Alex Salmond as First Minister of Scotland (she was confirmed as SNP leader during the party’s Perth conference). To surmise that she is happy about this would be an understatement.
She joined the SNP’s youth wing aged just 16, motivated more by utilitarian concerns like Trident and inequality than standard Nationalist distractions like flags and anthems. “My conviction that Scotland should be independent,” she said in a 2012 speech, “stems from the principles, not of identity or nationality, but of democracy and social justice.” In that sense Scotland’s new First Minister is a very modern Nationalist, a poster girl for the SNP’s oft-proclaimed “civic Nationalism” as distinct from that associated with historical grievances about Bannockburn.
Sturgeon’s political instincts are undoubtedly left wing, certainly more so than her predecessor’s, although often this manifests itself more in rhetoric than policy terms. For instance, Sturgeon maintains that free university tuition is “progressive” despite the fact that England, which charges for tuition, has improved access for poorer students while in Scotland, where tuition is free, that access has got worse. Nevertheless, when she talks about social justice and tackling inequality it sounds authentic rather than just a contrived debating point. Tackling inequality in Scotland is, she said in her maiden speech, her “personal mission.”
But at the same time, to depict her as an old-fashioned tax-and-spend lefty, as the Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has already started doing, would be wide of the mark. Although recent…