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Sturgeon's story should be a lesson for all politicians: it doesn't happen overnight

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Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party was in town for the recent British Irish Council summit (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party was in town for the recent British Irish Council summit (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

PA

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party was in town for the recent British Irish Council summit (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party was in town for the recent British Irish Council summit, an annual event bringing together leaders and ministers from across Britain and Ireland.

If you followed the summit on twitter, you'd be forgiven for thinking there were no other leaders or ministers in town, such was the focus on Sturgeon. The Taoiseach had a proud picture taken with her (not a selfie, mind you), as did every single politician and passing interested party.

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson were in attendance, as were Theresa Villiers, Philip Hammond and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, but their photos were not going viral in social media land.

I suppose it's not surprising.

Nicola Sturgeon emerged from the Scottish independence referendum campaign and the recent British general election as that rare thing: a rock-star politician.

Sturgeon has exactly the characteristics politicians strive for, and she carries them so naturally. She has courage, standing up to David Cameron and pressing him to deliver on his promises - made in reaction to the surge in support for Scottish independence - to give more powers to Scotland to run its own affairs in tax and spend, minimum wage and welfare policy.

She exudes leadership qualities, quadrupling membership of the SNP since being elected (unopposed) as the first female leader of the party and ranked by Scots as their most trusted politician by a significant margin. She is tenacious and passionate, doggedly pursuing an independent Scotland for all of her adult life and she won't give up until it is achieved, something she believes she will see in her lifetime.

She is truly authentic; she is living and breathing her vision of an independent Scotland and the values of the SNP. Yet despite what we might think - until the election she was not exactly a household name - Sturgeon is not new to the political scene.

She has been an SNP member and activist for almost 30 years now, joining at 16 in reaction to Thatcher's policies in Britain and moving up the ranks to serve, for the last 10 years, as Alex Salmond's deputy. She fought numerous elections before her first victory, and is forthright about just how difficult it is to win a seat - and how easy it is to lose one.

Hers is a story that should inspire all budding politicians, precisely because - until recently - it is a very ordinary one.

As a young woman she joined a party she believed in, in opposition to policies she objected to because of their destructive effect on her community. She worked long and hard for many years, contesting council and Westminster elections, without getting elected. She contested a seat in the newly established Scottish Parliament, and though unsuccessful at election she managed to get in via a regional list for Glasgow. She considered contesting the leadership, but pulled out when it was clear Salmond would emerge victorious, instead opting to contest as his deputy on a shared ticket.

In that role she prepared for what she is today: a leader.

Before the independence referendum, her elevation to leader and her stellar performance in the British election TV debates, hers was a very ordinary political story. She was no different to so many politicians here - contesting local elections, missing out, seeking a co-option, getting it, contesting the general, not quite getting there, trying for the Seanad.

And then, finally . . . winning. Taking a seat, working hard - so hard - to hang onto it. Building a team, a reputation, serving constituents, courting the media. That is Sturgeon's story and the story of so many of our politicians.

There are lessons in it: of commitment and persistence, of staying true to values and beliefs. Political success does not happen overnight - ask any political leader. Yet it can often appear so in the media, as someone zooms onto our screens, previously more or less unknown beyond the party faithful and now a star, think Cleggmania in 2010.

In reality, success is built over years spent in branch meetings and on doorsteps, at garden fêtes and local openings, and - of course - navigating the complex structure of power and politics in one's own party.

Nicola Sturgeon did all of that and more, methodically, patiently and with commitment, and throughout she remained utterly focused on the vision that drives her: an independent Scotland.

She is a role model for all politicians - and women in particular - because there are so few like her, serving party leaders, and because she consistently champions women in her party, starting with her 50/50 cabinet.

Watching her as leader and observing what she has achieved to date, the ordinary nature of Sturgeon's journey only serves to make her more extraordinary.

Irish Independent