Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon (born 19 July 1970) is a Scottish politician who is the fifth and current First Minister of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), in office since 2014. She is the first woman to hold either position. Sturgeon has been a member of the Scottish Parliament since 1999, first as an additional member for the Glasgow electoral region from 1999 to 2007, and as the member for Glasgow Southside since 2007 (known as Glasgow Govan from 2007 to 2011).
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 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, Investment and Cities in 2012.
Following the defeat of the "Yes" campaign in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Salmond announced that he would be resigning as party leader at the SNP party conference that November, and would resign as First Minister after a new leader was chosen. No one else was nominated for the post by the time nominations closed, leaving Sturgeon to take the party leadership unopposed at the SNP's annual conference. She was formally elected to succeed Salmond as First Minister on 19 November.
Forbes magazine ranked Sturgeon as the 50th most powerful woman in the world in 2016 and 2nd in the United Kingdom.
Early life and education
Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon was born in Ayrshire Central Hospital in Irvine, Ayrshire, on 19 July 1970. She is the eldest of three daughters born to Robin Sturgeon (born 1948), an electrician, and Joan Kerr Sturgeon (née Ferguson, 1952), a dental nurse. Her family has some roots in North East England; her paternal grandmother was from Ryhope in what is now the City of Sunderland.
Sturgeon grew up in Prestwick and Dreghorn. She attended Dreghorn Primary School from 1975 to 1982 and Greenwood Academy from 1982 to 1988. She later studied at the University of Glasgow, where she read Law. Sturgeon graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) in 1992 and a Diploma in Legal Practice the following year. During her time at Glasgow University she was active as a member of the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association and the 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.
Early political career
Sturgeon joined the Scottish National Party (SNP) in 1986, having already become a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and quickly became their Youth Affairs Vice Convener and Publicity Vice Convener. 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.
In the mid-1990s, Sturgeon and Charles Kennedy went together on a political study visit to Australia.
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, 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. Shortly after this, Sturgeon was appointed as the SNP's spokesperson for energy and education matters.
Sturgeon stood for election to the Scottish Parliament in the first Scottish Parliament election in 1999 as the SNP candidate for Glasgow Govan. 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, 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.
Depute Leader and Deputy First Minister
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. 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.
However, Salmond later announced that he did intend 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. 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.
The results of the leadership contest were announced on 3 September 2004, with Salmond and Sturgeon elected as Leader and Depute Leader respectively. 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.
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. 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. She was supported in this role 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 landslide victory and achieved 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, Investment and Cities and an additional role overseeing the referendum on Scottish independence, essentially putting her in charge of the SNP's referendum campaign. 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".
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. 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. 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". She also opined that Scottish independence was a matter of "when, not if".
Leadership of the Scottish National Party
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. It quickly became apparent that no other candidate would be able to receive enough required nominations to run a credible leadership campaign. 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.
Nominations for the SNP leadership closed on 15 October, with Sturgeon confirmed as the only candidate. 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". After being confirmed as the only candidate, Sturgeon launched a tour of Scotland, visiting SNP members in different cities outlining her vision for Scotland.
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 effectively made her First Minister in waiting, given the SNP's absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament. 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.
First Minister of Scotland
On 19 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. Sturgeon received 66 votes, Davidson received 15 and there were 39 abstentions. Sturgeon was formally sworn into office the following day. On 20 November 2014, she was appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom and therefore granted the title, 'The Right Honourable'. On 21 November, she unveiled her Cabinet with a 50/50 gender balance, promoting Finance Secretary John Swinney to become her Deputy First Minister.
UK 2015 general election
Sturgeon took part in several Scottish and UK-wide TV election debates in the run up to the 2015 general election and according to opinion polls was regarded to have had a successful performance. The SNP went on to win a landslide victory in Scotland, winning 56 out of 59 seats.
On 4 April 2015, a leaked memo from the Scotland Office alleged that Sturgeon privately told the French ambassador Sylvie Bermann that she would "rather see David Cameron remain as PM". This was in contrast to her publicly stated opposition to a Conservative Government on the run up to the election. The memo was quickly denied by both Sturgeon and the French consulate. It was later noted that the memo had contained a disclaimer that parts of the conversation may have been "lost in translation" and its release had been ordered by then Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael. Sturgeon stated that Carmichael had "engaged in dirty tricks" and that he should consider his position as an MP.
Scottish Parliament election, 2016
Sturgeon contested her first election as SNP leader at the 2016 election. The SNP fell two seats short of securing another overall majority. Nonetheless, with 63 seats, the SNP was still by far the largest party in the chamber.
Sturgeon was formally nominated for a second term on 17 May, defeating Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie by a vote of 63 to 5, with 59 members abstaining.
2016 EU membership referendum
The UK Government held a 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. 62% of Scottish voters voted to remain a member of the EU, with 38% voting to leave. Overall 52% of voters in the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, with 48% voting to remain.
In response to the result, on 24 June 2016, Sturgeon said that Scottish Government officials would begin planning for a second independence referendum. 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. Sturgeon said it was "democratically unacceptable" that Scotland could be taken out of the EU "against its will".
On 24 June, Sturgeon said she would communicate to all EU member states that Scotland had voted to stay in the EU. 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." 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. May's comments confirmed that the PM wanted the Scottish government to be "fully engaged" in the process.
Sturgeon was planning to meet with EU leaders in Brussels to discuss Scotland remaining in the UK. However, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, said that such discussions would be "not appropriate" considering the "situation in the UK". Nonetheless, she was able to arrange for a meeting on 29 June with European Parliament President Martin Schulz and others. Afterwards, Sturgeon said the reception had been "sympathetic", but she conceded that she did not underestimate the challenges.
Sturgeon met with new UK Prime Minister Theresa May in Edinburgh on 15 July 2016 after the latter had made it clear that UK unity was a high priority. Afterwards, Sturgeon said that "It would be inconceivable for any prime minister to seek to stand in the way of a referendum if that is what the Scottish Parliament voted for ... if there's a clear sense that that's what people in Scotland want, would be completely the wrong thing to do." She added a conciliatory note, however in her assessment of May: "She's a woman who has a fairly businesslike way of doing things, which I have too. So I think we can find a way of working together, notwithstanding those disagreements."
Future referendum on independence
Sturgeon confirmed in June 2016 that the Scottish government has formally agreed to draft legislation to allow a second independence referendum to take place. As the constitution is a 'reserved' matter under the Scotland Act 1998, for a future referendum on Scottish independence to be binding under UK law, it would need to receive the consent of the British Parliament to take place.
On 28 June 2016 Sturgeon made it clear that her motion to begin discussions with the EU (for Scotland to remain in the European Union) did not constitute a proposal for a second referendum on independence. However, her statements indicated that she had parliamentary authority to explore "options" for keeping Scotland in the EU, "including independence". By 13 October 2016, she announced the first formal step towards launching a new referendum, called the "Independence Referendum Bill".
Sturgeon has campaigned against replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system. She has been a critic of austerity, saying that the UK government's "austerity economics" is "morally unjustifiable and economically unsustainable".
Sturgeon is noted for campaigning for women's rights and gender equality, and is a self-described feminist; she has argued that Scotland's feminist moment is not simply symbolic, but "sends a powerful signal about equality." She has hailed Scottish feminist economist Ailsa McKay as one of her inspirations.
Awards and acknowledgements
Sturgeon won the Scottish Politician of the Year Award in 2008, 2012 and 2014. In 2004, 2008 and 2011 she also won the Donald Dewar Debater of the Year Award at the same event, which is organized by The Herald newspaper.
In February 2013, BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour assessed Sturgeon as being the 20th most powerful woman in the United Kingdom. She rose to be listed as the most powerful and influential in July 2015.
Sturgeon lives in Glasgow with her husband, Peter Murrell, who is the current chief executive of the SNP. The couple have been in a relationship since 2003. They announced their engagement on 29 January 2010, and were married on 16 July 2010 at Òran Mór in Glasgow. Her mother Joan was the SNP Provost of North Ayrshire council, where she was councillor for the Irvine East ward since 2007 until 2016.
Sturgeon is a fan of the Danish political drama Borgen, which she has described as "a drama but with an authentic twist. As a politician I can relate to it."
Sturgeon is a fan of Scottish Championship football club Ayr United F.C.
Sturgeon does not have any children. In 2016 she disclosed that she had a miscarriage in 2011.