The most dangerous woman in politics? The Tories think so
NICOLA Sturgeon has been described by one commentator as the most dangerous woman in British politics. This may or may not be true, but what is not open to question is that she was the liveliest and most energetic participant in this week's election debates.
A third of Labour voters who watched her in action thought she was a clear winner. So who is Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon? She was born July 19, 1970 and as yet has never set foot in Westminster - but, as the leader of the SNP, she may yet exert significant influence on the result of the General Election. As Scotland's serving First Minister, she is also the only leader apart from Nick Clegg and David Cameron to have already run a country.
Born in Irvine, Ayrshire, one of three daughters of Robert Sturgeon (an electrician) and Joan Sturgeon (a nurse), she studied law at the University of Glasgow and worked as a solicitor. But in 1992, the year she graduated, she had already been an SNP member for six years - and that same year became Scotland's youngest parliamentary candidate.
She came to the Party through the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (scrapping Britain's nuclear weapons is now one of her policies). She stood unsuccessfully in the general elections of 1992 and 1997, but won a seat in the new devolved Scottish Parliament. She planned to run for the party leadership in 2004, but withdrew when Alex Salmond announced his candidacy, falling into place behind him instead as his running mate.
From 2007 to 2014, through the SNP's first minority government and its first landslide win, she was Deputy First Minister; when Salmond resigned in the wake of the failed referendum on independence, nobody even stood against her to replace him. Under her leadership, the SNP membership has swollen to over 100,000. She's given speech after speech to packed conference halls of zealous SNP supporters, rousing them to rapturous cheers. Like Ukip, she vows to "shake up and reform" the tired "Westminster system".
But she is also making a canny pitch to voters south of the border and left of Labour who she thinks can be won to her cause.
And she hasn't been shy about the demands she would make of Ed Miliband. She wants to remove the £26,000 annual benefits cap and get £180bn more public spending; she wants the welfare system to be more generous and the minimum wage to rise to £8.70 an hour. She has described blocking a renewal of the Trident nuclear submarine programme as her "absolute" red line. She sees herself as the spearhead of a progressive front in Westminster which could force Labour back to its red roots. All the while, the shadow of Alex Salmond is looming over her. Opponents say her leadership is being undermined by his frequent interventions. But don't underestimate her. In her early days, she had a reputation for being too serious. Some called her "nippy sweetie" - Glasgow slang for an irritable person - which she tried to defuse by handing out actual sweeties during her first leadership campaign. Now things are very different.
By turns spiky, inspiring, sincere, calm, and utterly merciless, she is known for her fierce performances at First Minister's Questions.
In a debate over the referendum last year, she savaged the deputy leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Alistair Carmichael, who at one point had to appeal to the moderator to rescue him. She lives in Glasgow with Peter Murrell, the SNP's chief executive. (© Daily Telegraph, London)