Nicola Sturgeon is a tenacious leader for a party that won’t back down

Cometh the hour, cometh the woman.

Nicola Sturgeon took the stage in Perth on Friday to rapturous applause.

She had just been announced as the new leader of the SNP, elected unopposed to replace Alex Salmond.

It is rare in UK politics for an outgoing party leader who is overwhelmingly popular among members to be replaced by someone who attracts similar acclaim. But Ms Sturgeon is a superstar to the rank and file.

And she rode that energy to outline the priorities of her leadership.

The Scottish Government, under her charge, would continue the economic and social policies which had delivered a landslide in the 2011 Holyrood elections and seen the SNP enjoy eye-watering leads in the opinion polls.

She also set her party the aim of winning a majority of Scottish seats in the 2015 general election. This would help the Nationalists ensure referendum promises of extra powers for Scotland.

“That vow will be delivered in full,” she said with steely determination. “That is our pledge.”

But this was an SNP leader speaking to an SNP conference and so she came to the ultimate priority, the dream, the cause.

The SNP would, the new leader said, “keep making the case for Scotland being an independent country”.

“I believe today as strongly as I ever have that we should be independent,” she told delegates. “And I believe today as strongly as I ever have, perhaps more strongly than I ever have, that we will be independent.”

To this end, the SNP leader and First Minister designate unveiled plans to allow non-members to stand in the next Westminster election under the SNP banner. This falls short of the Yes Alliance touted by the minor parties but it is aimed at stopping a split in the pro-independence vote and, Ms Sturgeon hopes, returning as many SNP MPs as possible next May.

This confident agenda was impressive and underscored once again that the SNP is the vision party of Scotland.

But the Nationalists must show caution. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance and in voicing their determination to achieve independence they must avoid the impression that they are contemptuous of the referendum result. The majority of Scots voted No on September 18; they expect their sovereign, democratically-expressed will to be respected.

In making the case for a second referendum, Ms Sturgeon already has a model: Alex Salmond’s 2004 strategy. That approach placed the emphasis on building up the confidence of the voters in the SNP’s ability to run domestic affairs. Once that was won, Mr Salmond figured, the Nationalists would get a fairer hearing on the constitution.

Ten years on, many of the voters of Scotland have confidence in the SNP’s ability to run the health service, schools, and the justice system but not enough believe in its prospectus for independence. It is here where the faith and goodwill of the majority of Scotland must be earned. That won’t be done by shrillness or arrogance. It won’t come about by Nationalists talking only to other Nationalists. It will happen when the SNP understands why Scotland voted No and addresses those concerns to change the minds and win the votes needed to achieve its first and most important principle, independence.

That is the task Ms Sturgeon faces. Tomorrow she will give her first formal address to conference as leader and will have to begin to outline how she plans to succeed.

Originally published on STV NewsFeature image © First Minister of Scotland by Creative Commons 2.0.

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