Scotland's new leader eyes key role in British politics
Scotland's new leader Nicola Sturgeon, a tenacious former lawyer and the brains behind an unsuccessful independence bid, looks ahead on Saturday to a future of political clout for her homeland.
The 44-year-old was crowned leader of the Scottish National Party on Friday, taking over from nationalist firebrand Alex Salmond after he resigned following defeat in September's referendum.
Sturgeon was due to deliver a speech at the party's annual conference on Saturday, which comes amid a surge in support for nationalists despite their loss in a historic vote that inspired many Scots.
Sturgeon is also expected to be voted in next week by the Scottish parliament to take over from him as first minister, a position that will be imbued with new powers if the British government keeps its promise to grant Scotland far greater autonomy.
The SNP may also have a "kingmaker" role following May's general election, according to recent polls showing a sharp decrease in support for the opposition Labour party in its Scottish strongholds.
She has already signalled she is still far from giving up on the dream of separation one day despite Scots voting 55 percent to 45 percent against.
"I think we will become an independent country," she told Sky News on Friday after her appointment.
"I think that's the direction of travel but it will only happen when the people of Scotland choose it," she said.
Asked if that would be under her leadership, she replied: "I certainly hope so.
"Salmond's deputy for years, Sturgeon has long harboured leadership ambitions of her own, and her bob haircut and political style have invited comparisons with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
She was highly visible in the referendum campaign and oversaw the drawing up of the Scottish government's white paper on independence, a blueprint for separation from the United Kingdom.
- Growing up under Thatcher -Born in the town of Irvine on July 19, 1970, Sturgeon joined the SNP aged 16 and was soon appointed a coordinator for youth affairs and party publicity.
She has often talked about how she became politicised by witnessing Scotland's post-industrial decline during the "dark days of the Thatcher era" and she is seen as more left-wing than Salmond.
Inspired by her encounters with the nationalist movement when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, she even managed to convince her parents of its merits and her mother later joined the ranks of the SNP as an elected official in North Ayrshire.
Sturgeon became a prominent member of the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association while studying law, and worked as a lawyer in the city before committing full time to politics.
Her career has been an example in perseverance.
In elections to the Scottish parliament in 1999 and 2003 her party finished behind Labour, but under electoral rules she still ended up becoming a local lawmaker for Glasgow.
She eventually secured outright victory in 2007 and served as member for Glasgow Govan.
She also won the "Scottish Politician of the Year" award in 2008 and 2012.
In 2004, she announced her intention to run for the party leadership following a poor performance in European Parliament elections.
But she withdrew her bid after Salmond declared his intention to run, and threw her weight behind his campaign.
Displaying a strong sense of humour, Sturgeon has joked to the Scottish press that she has no time for cooking, going to the theatre, cinema or concerts.
Her idea of paradise, she said, is a good book and a glass of wine.
© 2014 AFP