Saturday 23 November 2019

Sturgeon shines to shake up a dull election campaign in Britain

Catching up with the woman who wants to lead Scotland to independence

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, watched by Patrick McVey, throws a ball at the Loanhead after-school club and community nursery in Edinburgh
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, watched by Patrick McVey, throws a ball at the Loanhead after-school club and community nursery in Edinburgh

Shona Murray

At the after-school club and nursery in Loanhead, a suburb south of the Edinburgh bypass, Nicola Sturgeon happily experiments with finger paints and glitter, and plays on the floor with babies. After seeing the older children on to their bus, she chats to local mothers who are eager to hear about her plans for better childcare opportunities and the level playing field for women in politics and society.

"There's no fancy talk, and as me and my fellow mum here (pointing to woman next to her) were just saying, she reaches out to women too - a lot of the time we're taking care of so much other stuff, that, you know, politics is sort of lower on the list - unless it's something that directly affects you, it sometimes sort of flies over my head a bit."


"Some of the issues she talks about strike a chord - women's issues, and getting women involved. The one-upmanship that the other politicians do is annoying, she is far more straight up, and it's appealing," said Lyndsay, a mother of one young boy.

While the British media obsesses over 'red line issues' and what would stop her from propping up a minority Labour government, those present at the children's club are interested in Nicola's plan for women and the family. "We want to make sure we're providing better childcare to more people, to deliver more women in to work," says Ms Sturgeon.

"I also want to see many more women represented in senior decision making positions in the country - I've led by example with a 50:50 cabinet, but I want to see company boards, public boards also move towards a gender balance position, she tells us," she says.

"I am determined that we have gender equality at the heart of all of our plans for economic growth because an economy that has the full contribution is going to be an economy that performs better," she insists.

The issue of the day is the SNP's steadfast opposition to the renewal of Trident - the system of nuclear missiles and submarines in place for defence purposes but which the SNP says is obsolete. Conservatives want to renew the system, which will cost £100bn (€138bn) over 30 years; the SNP has better plans to invest the money on getting women and families back to work.

"The SNP will never vote for Trident - if we go down that road, then that's £100bn that's not available to spend on better childcare, better health services and giving children the best start in life. All of our resources should be about services, and not wasted on weapons of mass destruction. We will not be in a deal with a Labour government that's intent on Trident; I've made that clear," she stressed.

While the SNP has not yet released its 2015 mandate for this election - much less written its plan for the future or the 2016 Scottish parliament elections, Scottish Independence and another referendum is somewhere on the horizon.

As Vicki Lyon - traditionally a Lib Dem voter - explained: "At the time, I didn't feel ready for it. Both my husband and I voted 'no'. But recently we had a conversation with some of our English relatives, who asked us how we voted. And they said, 'are you happy with that', and we said, 'actually if we had the chance now, we'd vote yes'," says the 40-year-old school teacher, "For some reason, in September, we didn't feel ready for it. But now, I definitely do.

Inspired "I've spoken to some people - friends of mine that feel the same. I know it's quite a turnaround, I just feel more confident about Scottish independence.

"A big driver for me is Westminster politics - it is very much old school, gentleman's club politics. It's a turn-off."

I ask Ms Sturgeon, does she envisage herself attending European summits as a head of government in independent Scotland, any time soon.

"I hope one day, Scotland is independent within the EU - membership of the EU is very important to Scotland - there are 330,000 jobs in Scotland that are dependent on our membership of the EU.

"The in-out referendum is the wrong way to go; it'd be disastrous for Scotland to be outside the EU and it would be indefensible for us to be taken outside the EU against our will."

"I'm a supporter of the EU - I don't see the fear of it; I don't see it as a big scary thing," says Lyon.

"If on the back of votes in England, Scotland was taken out of the EU -we might think, we'd rather be in the EU than the UK - I think that would be a tipping point for many people."

Sturgeon sees Ireland as an ally, and an example to follow in forging independence.

"There are things that we can learn from Ireland in the way it operated as an independent country, and I think there're things that Ireland learns from Scotland - the relationship between our two countries will always be very, very strong."

In the early day of the Scottish referendum, high profile leaders, President Obama, among them, urged Scotland to stick with the UK - something Sturgeon believes was inappropriate, and so won't be drawn on the prospects of a Northern Ireland - or Welsh referendum.

"I don't think it was right for people outside of Scotland or the UK to seek to interfere in the Scottish referendum, nor would it be right for me to do likewise."

Irish Independent

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