Nicola Sturgeon: The first female and now longest serving First Minister

Nicola Sturgeon took office on November 20 2014.

24 May 2022

Nicola Sturgeon made history as the first woman in Bute House – now she is also Scotland’s longest serving First Minister.

Born in Irvine, North Ayrshire, on July 19 1970, Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon attended Greenwood Academy in Dreghorn before studying law at Glasgow University and then working as a solicitor at an advice centre in the city’s Drumchapel area.

Ms Sturgeon said she was inspired to enter politics as a reaction against growing up in the era of Margaret Thatcher.

Whe entered the political arena in earnest at just 21 – in a losing effort at the 1992 General Election – but would go on to hone her political skills as one of the first tranche of MSPs to be elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

John Swinney, Mike Russell, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon after the Scottish Parliament election in 1999
Nicola Sturgeon was elected as an MSP in 1999 (Ben Curtis/PA)

She rose through the ranks of the SNP, seeking the leadership in 2004 after the departure of her future deputy, John Swinney.

But it was her mentor Alex Salmond who would re-enter the fray, courting Ms Sturgeon as his running mate as he took over control of the party he had led between 1990 and 2000.

With Mr Salmond no longer holding a seat at Holyrood, she was called on to take on leadership duties in Edinburgh, clashing with first minister Jack McConnell at First Minister’s Questions.

By 2007, the SNP were in power and the pairing of Salmond and Sturgeon controlled the newly-renamed Scottish Government, with Ms Sturgeon also taking on the mantle of health secretary.

Her overseeing of the swine flu epidemic would foreshadow her later stewardship of Scotland through the coronavirus pandemic, which, as of this week, would go on to claim the lives of 12,319 Scots.

Through some of the darkest days of the pandemic, the First Minister would deliver daily briefings and take questions from the press.

Nicola Sturgeon speaking at a rally in Glasgow
Nicola Sturgeon took a leading role in the 2014 independence referendum (Andrew Milligan/PA)

But, it was a vote in 2014 that would bring her closest to completing her political life’s work – the push for Scottish independence.

After the SNP majority at Holyrood in 2011, prime minister David Cameron agreed to hold a referendum on separation, signed into law in the form of the Edinburgh Agreement and setting the date of September 18 2014.

The campaign thrust Ms Sturgeon to the fore as she took to the streets to build support, speaking at venues across the country and culminating in a speech to 12,000 people at the Hydro in Glasgow.

In the wake of the Yes campaign’s 55%-45% defeat in the referendum, Alex Salmond resigned, setting the stage for his long-time deputy to step up.

She was elected unopposed as SNP leader and backed by her MSPs to become First Minister, before going on to win 56 of 59 seats in the 2015 General Election in her first poll in the top job.

What followed was sustained electoral success for the party that even Ms Sturgeon could never have dreamed of in her early days in politics, cementing the SNP as Scotland’s leading party and herself as one of the most well-known politicians in the UK.

Nicola Sturgeon wearing a mask and celebrating at the 2021 Holyrood election count in Glasgow
The SNP has consistently won elections in Scotland in recent years (Jane Barlow/PA)

The First Minister’s zeal for independence would continue, with her current Government planning to hold a referendum by the end of next year – despite repeated refusals from Westminster to devolve the necessary powers and the looming possibility of a court battle if Holyrood tries to press ahead alone.

But, despite consistent wins at the ballot box, the First Minister’s tenure has been dotted with scandal.

The relationship with Mr Salmond soured in a very public spat after he was accused of inappropriate behaviour by two Scottish Government officials while first minister and later cleared of 13 charges including attempted rape at the High Court in Edinburgh.

Mr Salmond took legal action against the Scottish Government over its investigation, which the Court of Session said was “tainted with apparent bias”, awarding Mr Salmond £511,250.

A Scottish Parliament committee set up to probe the botched handling of the complaints resulted in mud slinging between the two former confidants, with Ms Sturgeon strenuously denying Mr Salmond’s accusations of a conspiracy against him.

While the First Minister was cleared of breaching the ministerial code, the committee would conclude she had misled MSPs over a meeting she had with Mr Salmond in her home when the complaints were discussed.

Mr Salmond would go on to lead the Alba Party, taking with him some of the SNP’s most ardent supporters.

The party would fail to elect a single representative in each of its first two elections.

The First Minister has also said publicly she has regrets with how the Scottish Government handled parts of the Covid-19 pandemic, including stating she would – in hindsight – have locked the country down earlier as the first wave of the virus hit.

The Scottish Government has also been criticised by official bodies for the discharging of hospital patients into care homes in the early part of the pandemic and a lack of preparedness.

Even as she becomes the longest serving First Minister in history, Ms Sturgeon is still dealing with pressure over the country’s transport network.

Two late and over-budget ferries being built at the Government-owned Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow continue to plague her, with recent revelations showing the body charged with procuring ferries raising concerns about the contract before it was signed.

The newly-nationalised ScotRail is also a cause for concern for the Scottish Government, with the operator slashing more than 700 services as a result of a pay dispute causing a shortage of drivers.

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