Leaders: Nicola Sturgeon’s new challenge

Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish parliamentary election count in 2007. Picture: Gareth Easton

Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish parliamentary election count in 2007. Picture: Gareth Easton

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NICOLA Sturgeon was ­yesterday confirmed as leader-elect of the SNP and, next month, she is set to ­become Scotland’s first female First ­Minister.

These are remarkable achievements for which we send ­ Ms Sturgeon our hearty congratulations. We wish her luck as she prepares for power.

But securing the top job at Holy­rood is only the beginning for Ms Sturgeon, whose leadership comes as the nationalist movement – and all of Scottish politics – enters a new era. An announcement by the next First Minister that she plans a grand tour of rallies around Scotland may have the whiff of an ego-trip about it, but this is a wise move.

Ms Sturgeon needs to assert her authority on an SNP which has changed. Her natural instinct is to take a pragmatic approach to being a Scottish nationalist party within the UK. But this clashes with the more fundamentalist view held by tens of thousands of new party members.

The SNP’s membership has more than trebled since the Yes campaign crashed to defeat in last month’s independence referendum. A great many of those new members are of the opinion that a second referendum can be quickly called, and won.

Others – goaded on by some in the wider Yes movement – even think Ms Sturgeon should prepare her party for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence in the event of a successful showing in next year’s General Election.

Ms Sturgeon yesterday said she looked forward to being First Minister for all Scots and, if that is to be the case, then she must wean her party away from any destabilising talk of another constitutional battle any time soon.

The challenge for Ms Sturgeon is substantial. She cannot ­afford to turn off enthusiastic new members but she must find a way of making their expectations more realistic.

The SNP has made much of its astonishing surge in membership – and understandably so. Referendum defeat could have been disastrous for the Nationalists but, instead, new members have given the party some real momentum.

But this increase in membership is the new leader’s biggest potential headache. After ten years as deputy leader, Ms Sturgeon is about to become the ­gradualist leader of a party of nationalist fundamentalists in a country that has declared itself for the Union.

Ms Sturgeon could send a strong message to her new members by working co-operatively with Lord Smith’s commission on further devolution. Let her lead by example, finding solutions that suit the majority rather than play to the unrealistic demands of her new allies.

Ms Sturgeon’s career has been a great success story but politics is a game of risk. She takes on the leadership of party and country at a challenging time.

It will take all of Ms Sturgeon’s talents to balance the needs of Scotland with the demands of her party.

Most basic standards were not met

A report into hygiene standards in the accident and emergency department of a Scottish hospital makes disturbing reading.

A team of inspectors from the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate (HEI) discovered a troubling lack of cleanliness at the casualty unit in Livingston’s St John’s Hospital.

Blood was found on lamps; beds were contaminated with bodily fluids; and the standard of cleanliness of equipment was ­described as poor.

Managers at the hospital appear to have responded quickly to the HIE report, with problems discovered being put right within days.

But concerns remain about how the A&E department at St John’s was allowed to become so dangerously dirty.

Hospital acquired infections strike the most vulnerable. Perfectly routine procedures can be horrendously complicated by illness picked up on wards. In some cases, the consequences can be devastating.

Senior politicians have made much in recent years about the need for the highest standards of cleanliness in hospitals. There have been high-profile campaigns and the introduction of anti-bacterial gels outside every ward.

But while the public has a huge responsibility in ensuring that infections are not brought on to hospital premises, an even greater duty falls to hospital staff.

There is no excuse for the conditions discovered at St John’s. The most basic standards were not met.

Health secretary Alex Neil should redouble his efforts to ensure the highest standards of cleanliness are achieved and then maintained.

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