JEFFERSON Davis was the president of the Confederate States during the American Civil War. His ambassador to London, William Yancey, said of him: “The man and the hour have met”. The poetry is all I care for in that line – the historical precedents are nil in what is a painful story. But what a piece of oratory it was.
The hour approaches this Friday when Nicola Sturgeon will have been First Minister of Scotland for a hundred days. What is already clear is that this is a new government going about its business in a new way. Her tone and manner are completely her own. The best prepared and capable of any First Minister on taking office, she already looks completely at ease with the pressures.
She will have her moments, of course she will, but we know from her past that she is likely to be open and accepting of any failings.
Anyone looking for any tensions with her predecessor knows nothing about the modern SNP. Anyone expecting an irresponsible lurch to the left misunderstands her view of the world and I suspect that shall be remedied in the weeks and months to come.
She gave a speech in London two weeks ago criticising the austerity policies of the three UK establishment parties. She did so arguing that the zero-sum budgeting of cuts ignores the impact on the engine of the economy and that growth had to be our priority.
A growing economy reduces spending need and raises more tax at lower rates. She argued the establishment position gets the balance wrong and many people agreed across the UK.
A former senior adviser to the last prime minister and Scottish Labour leader wrote in The Scotsman yesterday that it was “the best articulation of the case against austerity I have heard”. It is a case that needs to be heard for all our sakes as it speaks for views across a political spectrum currently unspoken for by the London parties.
Next month sees the launch of the new economic strategy of the Scottish Government. I expect the engagement of business and its representatives to step up. The focus must be to make a difference to systemic challenges across the board.
We all know that if government alone could provide the solution to many of our problems it would probably have done so by now. Collaboration and engagement is critical and must be much easier to achieve in a relatively small country like ours. The opportunities from this will be very real.
Tomorrow Sturgeon travels to London again to learn from the London Challenge scheme improving educational attainment in the poorest communities. That openness and willingness to give new ideas a chance is precisely what we need.
What is also noticeable is that Sturgeon is much less bothered by the daily fray than her predecessor who grew up in it. That risks giving some occasional limelight to your opponents. She knows what she is doing.
Like her predecessor she is becoming a UK political figure and as a strong, articulate woman she is attracting much support. She is emerging as a real role model for young women in Scotland and beyond. Interest in Sturgeon will begin to extend beyond the UK which can only be to the country’s benefit.
More than anything Sturgeon knows the importance of timing in politics and public life. She bided hers with complete dignity for more than a decade as deputy leader of her party.
A friend of mine who as a senior journalist has followed Sturgeon’s political story for 15 years told me last week that “uniquely among the senior politicians I have spoken to over the years, she has never once briefed against anyone on her own side or even in private about her opponents. She is generous of spirit.”
We have just entered a new era in our politics with a new government led by possibly the most modern political leader in Europe right now, certainly in the UK.
Modern leaders can’t be expected to deliver us from all evil. Our salvation, in every sense lies within, in the form of our own choices and actions.
But our leaders are there to pull us together, forge collaboration, set goals and help determine the common course – to ensure that as many of our people as possible have access to the opportunities, choices and actions that will better their own lives and those of the people around them.
To lead in this context takes depth, an eye for the longer term, openness, candour and compassion. It takes a clear sense of purpose and the ability to pull opponents together. It takes a self-belief worn easy that can deal with challenge and has an ear for the quiet voice in the room. Sound familiar?
My children’s generation will lead healthier, wealthier, gentler and happier lives than mine, of this I am convinced. I am very hopeful for us all.
The woman and the era have met.
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