A woman for Scotland’s seasons

There’s been plenty written about Nicola Sturgeon’s appointment as Scotland’s Yes Minister this week.  Most of it by blokes, funnily enough, but all the pieces – by Euan McColm, Iain McWhirter, Kevin McKenna and even (for the sake of balance) Alan Cochrane – are worth a read.

So what can I add, that I didn’t also already say in an earlier post?

At the risk of sounding like Alex Neil, there are three things worthy of note.

Firstly, this is the first time the SNP has appointed a woman to a big meaty economic post in government.  Indeed, it is a political rarity to see a woman handling such a portfolio at all.  For all his undoubted talents, the First Minister has always been a bit linear when it has come to matching portfolios with people, demarcating largely on gender grounds who goes where.   Consequently, there has been a bit of a traditional focus on the capital and infrastructure brief, full of masculine imagery of “shovel-ready projects” and harking back to our heavy industry days, which actually ignore the reality of where Scotland’s economy must head if it is to recover and succeed in the future.  The only real exception to this has been on the renewables industry – which the First Minister has taken ownership of and no doubt, will continue to do so – but even this has been promoted with a might and strength message.  Now, with a woman in the role, the opportunity exists for a different approach to capital and infrastructure.

Women like me would argue – and I do – that real investment in providing childcare is an infrastructure requirement, as much as a bypass is.  Putting communities at the heart of planning housing development and making space in particular, for women and children to contribute to that process, means much more people-friendly estates – such experiments have shown the benefits clearly with more green space, amenities and fewer cul de sacs and danger spots in lay-out.

By taking a holistic and horizontal approach to her portfolio, and using her gender, as well as her acute intelligence, knowledge and exceptional political skills, the Depute First Minister could make her mark by doing something utterly untraditional and remarkable with this portfolio, and making it work in a way least expected to address the significant economic inequalities which currently exist in Scotland.  Some of that will indeed involve investment in shovel-ready projects of an obvious bricks and mortar nature, but it also requires a freshd surely require a different approach and way of thinking about how to get the biggest bangs for our bucks.  A starting point might be to order a briefing on Finland’s knowledge economy and strategy.

But of course, this is not the real reason why she has been gifted (or rather, rewarded with) this opportunity.  The economics of independence are a key battleground in the drive to win a yes vote and the limitations imposed by Westminister generally and more acutely, through the Tories and Lib Dems’ austerity measures on our ability to invest in our economic success will feature heavily.  This portfolio allows her to seamlessly lead the campaign on this front.

So too does the migration of welfare from health to capital and infrastructure.  Whatever the reasons the Tories have for dismantling the welfare state as we know it, they have presented the SNP and the Scottish Government with a gifthorse in demonstrating that only by doing things for ourselves in the future, can we hope to create a fairer society.  We can no longer rely on  Westminster governments to apply Scottish values to social policy.  And by effectively devolving small areas of responsibility for welfare, we now have an opportunity to show that we can do things differently from previously unified policy areas and the sky won’t fall in.

This is an important front in the battle for yes votes – as Gordon Brown’s recent speeches testify – and given the potential impact of reform and austerity measures, it enables the Depute First Minister to develop a convincing narrative.  The reasons no longer to stay in the Union will become as important for some, as the reasons to leave.  It’s a subtle difference in the shaping of the argument but a vital one, and in her new brief, our Yes Minister has the tools with which to build it.

The final point to add at this juncture, is that all of this is somewhat predicated on how far Nicola Sturgeon is prepared to occupy her place in the sun.  The Depute First Minister has spent all of her adult life in the political world and is now at the height of her political skills and talents.  She exudes competence and confidence;  she has a sure populist touch and an ability to look all round an issue before deciding on the way forward; she has an instinct for the right thing to do at any given time;  and she still holds true to her left of centre principles and beliefs.  Most importantly, of all, she has learned to feel comfortable in her own political skin.  She knows she deserves to be where she is at this vital time in Scotland’s political history.

Crucial to all of this has been her willingness to apply herself to learning her craft through years of apprenticeship close to Alex Salmond.  Having spotted her precocious talent early on, he has – as he did with many others – bestowed considerable patronage and there is no doubt, over the decades, that she has shown herself more than worthy of it.  Theirs is a symbiotic relationship which – and this has always puzzled me – few have bothered to explore.  Giving her responsibility for constitutional affairs shows clearly how much he trusts her judgement and skills to deliver a yes vote – and conversely, is a rare demonstration of the First Minister acknowledging the limits of his own appeal and powers.

Their yin and yang at the forefront of this campaign will create a more rounded appeal to voters and in particular, the 20% or so who have to be persuaded to win the referendum.  Yes, she has grown in stature throughout her years in government, but she has until now, still been the junior partner in this political relationship.  And having been his number two for so long, the question is, does she want to become number one in her own right?  At some point in the next two years, there will come a moment when – if she wants the top jobs in the SNP and in Scottish politics, a decision which, as Euan McColm observes, is not necessarily a given, even with the door propped open for her – she must decide, ultimately, if she is Eck’s woman or her own – and Scotland’s – woman.

To do so, she would have to stretch the ties of personal and political loyalty and balance – finely – the interests of the campaign she has been chosen to lead with her own. She might even have to subtly redefine her and Alex Salmond’s roles, so that she no longer appears as an equal partner but the dominant one.  And she might have to give up more of herself personally than she has hitherto been willing to do.  For the Depute First Minister is an extremely private person, yet is someone who exudes warmth, humour, integrity and loyalty to her family and in her friendships and many of them have been frustrated that this real Nicola rarely comes across in the political arena, aided and abetted by how the media have caricatured her.

However it plays out personally for her career, there is no doubt that Nicola Sturgeon now occupies the central role in this referendum campaign, not only for the Scottish Government but also for the SNP.  The role she has of marrying policy, strategy and tactics is a huge one.  Is she good enough?  I think she is.


18 thoughts on “A woman for Scotland’s seasons

  1. Pingback: A woman for Scotland's seasons « A Burdz Eye View | Independence for Scotland, It's Coming Soon! | Scoop.it

  2. Och its guid tae be home! Ye don’t get this on other sites; a good discussion! But also a very good post to read, no-one can deny that!

  3. I’m not wholly convinced about Nicola, Kate.

    The letter she sent to the judge in 2010 suggesting that a committed fraudster’s fraudulent actions were a mistake seriously tarred her integrity, if not her political judgement.

    She seems to get rattled too easily and shows her feelings – maybe not a bad thing – too readily.

    Take the ambushing of her by Ruth Davidson on the first televised Big Debate on the BBC, she came out of that looking ill prepared and ill at ease.

    The anti-gay marriage protestors recently also seemed to get under her skin. Maybe it’s a good thing because, if nothing else, it shows she is human. For me though the jury is still out.

    And, in her favour, if I was to form a political party she’d certainly be one of the first choices for who I’d want in it.

    But I don’t think she has the persona or charisma for greatness. She’s certainly way beyond solid journeyman, but her and her team failed to make the impression in Glasgow’s council elections which could have put the wind right up Labour and provided the stepping stone needed for a successful independence campaign.

    Anecdotally, I’m not sure if she’s a good or bad frontperson to attract more females to the Nationalist cause either. She seems to split opinion right down the middle ie she’s either loved or hated with not much in between.


    NB: Mr Bell’s contributions remind me of a tub thumpingly intolerant Ian Paisley style of argument. I’m still staunchly undecdided concerning independence, but find his interjections a complete turn off. He couldn’t covince me that sucking limes was good for scurvy.

  4. Pingback: A woman for Scotland’s seasons | YES Scotland | Scoop.it

  5. The lack of a hunger for personal power is an interesting (and probably fairly unusual) characteristic in a politician. Given that a huge driver in many of the “non-separatists” is the fear of losing personal power, that might make for an interesting and exploitable contrast.

    As for the whole gender and ministries equation, target audience would be a more pragmatic explanation than gender stereotyping. Can we have an outbreak of peace now?

    From my limited experience drawn from the ones my path has crossed I can say that I have detected no link between gender and competence.

  6. Did you miss Alison Rowat’s vicious and patronising piece in Friday’s Herald?

    • Obviously! Also hear – but I refuse to venture behind the paywall – that Gillian Bowditch’s piece in the Times today was pretty woeful and focused on personal issues. Interesting too then that it’s female commentators who have the knives out…

  7. My experience of Nicola is that she is someone who has zero personal ambition. That might sound odd because she is also someone who has a clear sense of her own capabilities and who has been very focussed on doing the maximum amount of good for the party and been quite ruthless about that at times. But I really think she always puts the party and the cause first. So if the circumstances arise where she thinks it would benefit the SNP & independence to have her as leader she will go for it but equally if she judges that someone else would be better placed she would have no hesitation in stepping aside. She is an extremely generous person in that respect I think, especially in the political world where personal ambition is a driver for many people.

    • Which is a much better summation of her personal character than I managed. Concur wholeheartedly. You can be personally ambitious for your own gain or to further a cause or an issue – Nicola definitely comes into the latter category.

    • Your assessment of Nicola Sturgeon is borne out by her decision to step aside in favour of Alex Salmond in the party leadership contest following John Swinney’s resignation. A decision which marked her out as a serious political operator.

  8. C’mon! Seriously? You actually think Salmond makes appointments “largely” on the basis of gender?

    • nope but he makes them largely on gender lines. Has done for years. Social policy women, economic policy men. Most other Cabinets the same.

      • Correlation does not imply causation.

      • And you misinterpreted what I said. He has largely appointed along gender lines. Going back to the 90s actually.

      • That a man is appointed to a job is no more necessarily because he is a man. Or are you seriously going to suggest the unavoidable corollary – that women get cabinet posts solely on the basis of their sex and not their abilities?

      • FFS I write an article of more than 1200 words extolling the virtues of our Depute First Minister and you pick up on half a dozen of them, which are an adjunct. Look at the facts. In most UK and Scottish political Cabinets in recent times, men go to the posts like defence, foreigh affairs, economy and Treasury. Women go to health, education, equalities, children – the supposedly softer, social policy type roles. Salmond has been no exception to this over all his time appointing people to Cabinet posts. Even when they were meaningless. That is the point. That the DFM’s appointment to traditionally male portfolio territory is of interest, particularly to see if she does something different with it. Stop trying to pick an argument that isn’t there and I respectfully suggest, go and find something more interesting to do.

      • Maybe you could use formatting, ie text colour, to indicate those parts of your posts that you don’t want people to comment on.

        The claim that the First Minister makes cabinet appointments “largely” on the basis of gender is hardly a trivial one. It deserves to be challenged as it impugns both Alex Salmond and the people he appoints. I repeat, correlation does not imply causation. Unless you can offer some evidence that gender plays a significant role in cabinet appointments then the comment remains no more than an unsupported and rather preposterous assertion.

        But since my challenging this nonsense is obviously making you uncomfortable, I shall desist.

      • And i repeat that you are misinterpreting what i actually wrote which is appointment largely along gender lines. Which is different from gender playing a role in whom he appoints. It’s the roles that determine which gender to appoint (as well as skills etc) rather than the other way about.

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