The last six months for Nicola sturgeon have been the toughest of her political career. But forged in the fires of a battle for independence, Sturgeon has shown she is made of steel. We speak to the first in a new breed of ‘Stateswoman’ about her influences, challenges and aspirations for Scotland.
The campaigning has started for the May elections and SNP is projected a landslide win, as the leader of the SNP what will be your strategy to deliver the next referendum?
While I firmly believe that Scotland should be an independent country, and that it remains the best constitutional sett-lement for this nation. I accept unreservedly the result of the referendum.
If and when there is another independence referendum will be a matter for the Scottish people. The Scottish Govern-ments will now play a full and constructive part in the process to deliver substantial new powers for the Scottish Parl-iament.
Our key focus will be on ‘Powers for a purpose’- that means proposals that aim to deliver real change for the people of Scotland and work to create a fairer nation.
One of the huge positives of the independence referendum was the overall engagement of a vast majority of the ele-ctorate. Do you think people will continue to immerse themselves in political affairs and how will you keep people engaged moving forward?
The referendum campaign made it clear that there is a massive desire in Scotland for change. We need to ensure that the reality of further devolution matches the rhetoric of the campaign. So all of the political parties-have a responsibility to involve our empowered, engaged and energised electorate.
Will you continue to push for Scotland’s power over foreign affairs in particular over Europe?
I am clear that the Scottish parliament should have the ability to directly represent its interest in the EU and internat-ionally. In our submission to the Smith Commission, we set out that Scotland should be empowered to have a stronger and more clearly articulated voice on the international stage.
This is essential to ensure that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish government can play a strong role in decision-making on issues within their responsibilities, or which will affect their interests, and to enhance their ability to promote Scottish products and businesses internationally.
Within the context of the UK, we believe Scotland should have the competence to act internationally in devolved areas and also a formal role in determining the UK’s priorities, policies and positions on reserved matters that affect Scottish Interests.
Reforming the EU is a challenge that will only be successfully met by member states working collectively in a constructive and determined manner, according to established procedures.
With an ageing population in Scotland and young workforce flocking to London, how do you intend to help retain Scot-tish talent and will immigration be encouraged to fill skills shortage?
Scotland’s needs are different to those in the rest of the UK. Scotland has a large, established migrant community and we welcome the contribution new Scots are making to our economy and society.
Immigration policy is currently too heavily influenced by the priorities of the south east England. The Westminster appr-oach is based on the values of the current UK Government, which is driven by desire to reduce the numbers of incoming migrants.
Alongside of our efforts to create jobs in Scotland and develop the skills of our workforce, we must be able to attract and retain world-class talent to fill vacancies which cannot be filled by resident workers. Scotland has an excellent Modern Apprenticeship programme responding to employer needs. It is also helping more young people remain and succeed in education and helping young graduates kick-start their careers through a range of quality, paid graduate placement programmes.
Given your tenure as Minister of Health, how do you feel about the recent audit Scotland report that suggests that there are still ‘substantial’ inequalities in heath throughout the country?
Overall, health in Scotland is improving and people are living longer, healthier lives. Reducing the health gap between people in Scotland’s most deprived and affluent communities are one of our greatest challenges.
At its root this is an issue of income inequality- we need a shift in emphasis from dealing with the consequences to tack-ling the underlying causes, such as ending poverty, ensuring fair wages, supporting families and improving our physical and social environments.
Scottish Government measures such as driving investment in affordable housing, free school meals, and continuing the social wage commitments including free prescriptions, concessionary travel and free personal care, are the right approach of the UK Government’s Welfare cuts.
We are working with all of our partners to tackle poverty and inequality and help those who want to get into work. Many people in Scotland are concerned about the welfare policies of the UK government and implications they could have on them and their families. And that is why we want the necessary powers to develop Scottish system which provides support for those who need it.
Your mother will have been a huge influence in your choice to enter politics, are there any other female politicians you would sight as inspiration?
Winnie Ewing is someone who inspired a generation of pro-independence politicians. Her win in the Hamilton by-election in 1967 ushered in a new era in Scottish politics and paved the way for much of what has followed, so she is a female polit-ician that everyone connected with the cause of an independent Scotland owes a great deal to.
Being a woman in politics, do you feel that you had to work harder that of your male counterparts?
Yes sometimes it does feel that you have to work harder, as a woman, to be taken seriously. And although Holyrood has a good record on female representation, there is still much to do.
Gender Balance is not only good for governance but it leads to better decision-making. I am determined that women in Scotland should have every opportunity to contribute fully to the success of our businesses, our public and third sector organisations and to our economy.
I am keen to have mandatory quotas to ensure that at least 40 percent of public boards are made up of women to bridge the gender gap and create more effective boards. From our recent consultation, we know there is support for this activity across the political spectrum here in Scotland.
I want to harness that support and ensure that the expertise gathered informs appointments processes, resulting in gen-der diverse boards compromising the highest calibre of men and women.
Would/will you encourage more women to get involved in politics?
Yes, I will always encourage women to get involved in politics. Politics and public life in general have networks that have grown up around men. The way to change that is to get more and more women involved so that increasingly influence is confined to these traditionally male networks.