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, on Saturday predicted a powerful future for her nation and rekindled dreams of eventual self-rule.
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 delivered a speech at the party's annual conference on Saturday, which came amid a surge in support for nationalists despite their loss in a historic vote that inspired many Scots.
"To stand here before you as leader is the proudest moment of my life," she told delegates.
Despite the "heartbreak" of referendum defeat, Sturgeon insisted that "Scotland will become in independent country" as voters become more and more disillusioned with the traditional, London-based, parties.
"Power over Scotland no longer rests in the corridors of Westminster, it rests with Scottish people and that is where it will stay," she said.
Sturgeon will be voted in next week by the Scottish parliament to take over from Salmond 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.
Sturgeon accused Labour of having "no positive case to make" and relied instead on threatening voters that the unpopular Conservatives would win unless they voted Labour.
"That is the biggest con trick in Scottish politics and we must not fall for it again," she said.
"Scotland did vote Labour at the last general election, but we still ended up with the Tories.
"The new leader vowed to tackle inequality, to protect the National Health Service and make sure that London's promises of more powers were kept.
- Growing up under Thatcher -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.
Stacey Devine, an SNP member and single mother, said her rise to the top gave hope to women across the country.
"It actually raises a kind of inspiration because we teach our young girls that they should aspire to marriage, should look to get a man, and set into town and raise a family and look after our own," she told AFP on the fringes of the conference.
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.
© 2014 AFP