Page last updated at 07:32 GMT, Friday, 18 April 2008 08:32 UK

'Nippy sweetie' gives it her all

Nicola Sturgeon

Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Not everybody agrees with Nicola Sturgeon's politics, but not many would question her unwavering commitment to life as an elected politician.

Ms Sturgeon - who signed up with the SNP at 16 - stuck with the party through good times and bad, climbing the ranks to become Scotland's deputy first minister and health secretary.

The former solicitor's direct style earned her the title of "nippy sweetie" early on, but has attributed her attitude to the seriousness with which she approaches her job.

Entering Holyrood as a Glasgow list MSP in 1999, Ms Sturgeon, born in Irvine in 1970, pulled off her key aim of winning the Labour-held seat of Govan in 2007, after cutting the party's majority over several attempts at UK and Scottish elections.

As SNP education spokeswoman, she held the Labour/Lib Dem administration to account over the damaging fiasco which saw thousands of higher exam results delayed or sent out incorrectly.

Ms Sturgeon strongly attacked the use of private firm Reliance for prisoner escorts during her time with the justice brief, following the escape of convicted killer James McCormick from Hamilton Sheriff Court.

And she accused Scotland's senior law officer, then Lord Advocate Colin Boyd, of talking "a load of rubbish" over his support for UK Government plans for a new supreme court to hear Scottish civil case appeals.

Moving to health, waiting lists and bed blocking were her weapons of choice in opposition and led calls in Scotland for a ban on tobacco advertising.

Leadership challenge

Always determined to do right by the party, Ms Sturgeon convinced delegates at the SNP's 2003 conference - already dogged by the challenge to then party leader John Swinney - to vote in a requirement for all SNP parliamentarians to give a set amount of cash per month to the party.

Having managed the Swinney leadership campaign, she seized on his subsequent departure by entering the race to succeed him.

She launched her manifesto, but withdrew it little more than a week later to run for deputy, on a joint ticket with Alex Salmond.

Whatever the fiercely loyal Ms Sturgeon thought of claims by rival Mike Russell that Mr Salmond - not an MSP when he became leader - would be an "absentee laird", she saw an opportunity in becoming the Nationalists' senior figure at Holyrood while her boss returned to Westminster.

She boosted her profile through the weekly question time grilling of First Minister Jack McConnell, often concentrating on health issues, while declaring it was time to end the "blandness" in Scottish politics.

Unlike some of her other cabinet colleagues, Ms Sturgeon had the luxury of being able to enact some of the more popular Nationalist pledges

In one incident, health chiefs demanded an apology after Ms Sturgeon claimed a patient in the Lothians was denied emergency treatment before waiting 23 hours in pain for care at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Ms Sturgeon claimed the high-profile case of Marion Kyle showed how NHS cutbacks were failing patients.

But the row ended in stalemate after Ms Sturgeon refused to say sorry and the health authority declined to retract letters sent to her about the case, described as "factually inaccurate" by the SNP.

Following the SNP's historic election win in May 2007, Ms Sturgeon was appointed health secretary and, unlike some of her other cabinet colleagues, had the luxury of being able to enact some of the more popular Nationalist pledges - several of which had been ruled out by the previous government.

She reversed the decision to close casualty units at Ayr hospital and Monklands, in Lanarkshire, and announced the scrapping of prescription charges, though not the election pledge to immediately drop them for the chronically ill and those with cancer.

Ms Sturgeon also outlined a guaranteed 18-week wait for patients after they had seen their GP and vowed to do away with deferred or "hidden" waiting lists.

She ordered a review of the thorny issue of hospital car parking charges - as high as 7 in some areas - and, after years of campaigning in opposition, found herself in a position to announce an inquiry into the infection of NHS patients with Hepatitis C and HIV from tainted blood products.

Nicola Sturgeon
Ms Sturgeon decided to scrap prescription charges

She also expressed sympathy for "presumed consent" in relation to organ donors - a move previously voted down by MSPs.

And the health secretary took swift action to ensure patients wrongly removed from an NHS Tayside waiting list for specialist liposuction treatment would be seen.

The move came after a local plastic surgeon told one patient she was being removed from the list as bosses were struggling to meet government waiting time targets - comments he later withdrew in a NHS statement.

Despite her considerable health commitments, Ms Sturgeon has still found time to rattle a few cages while wearing her deputy first minister's hat.

She described a move by election expert Ron Gould to "clarify" his findings into the Scottish election voting fiasco as "bizarre".

His report, she claimed, could not have been clearer when it said ministers acted in a partisan fashion.

And she told a Commons inquiry there was no case for keeping the Scotland Office a decade after devolution, claiming the institution belonged to a past era.


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