Tom Peterkin: The job ahead for Nicola Sturgeon

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is formally voted in as First Minister. Picture: Getty

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is formally voted in as First Minister. Picture: Getty

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Taking over from Scotland’s longest-serving first minister was always going to be a daunting prospect, even for someone as able and committed as Nicola Sturgeon.

But if there is a politician capable of stepping out from the large shadow cast by Alex Salmond, it is Sturgeon.

Within minutes of her election as First Minister, it was clear that the fight for women’s equality will be a major theme of her leadership. When she announces her Cabinet, we can expect some prominent jobs for prominent SNP female politicians.

Before the independence referendum, conventional wisdom was that taking over from Salmond in the aftermath of defeat would be a poisoned chalice as the SNP went into self-destruct mode.

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As it happens, Sturgeon has taken over a party that could not be more buoyant, with thousands of new members flocking to the cause.

The future of the SNP is healthier than ever – but that presents its own challenges. Balancing the expectations of a radicalised membership clamouring for another shot at independence with the day-to-day business of running the country and appealing to No voters could be a tough ask.

Salmond was in the unfamiliar position of watching his successor from the backbenches yesterday. If he chooses to do so, Salmond could make a nuisance of himself from that part of parliament – whether at Holyrood or Westminster.

Google Hangout: live discussion on Alex Salmond’s legacy

Any criticism from Salmond of the path followed by Sturgeon would be extremely unhelpful to the First Minister. But as Sturgeon’s fulsome tributes to her predecessor indicated, the two politicians are extremely close. They have worked hand in glove for the last ten years – the last seven and a half as first minister and deputy. Having been groomed for leadership by Salmond, Sturgeon will hope he will keep his criticisms to himself.

Sturgeon has been described as a child of the Left, a portrayal that has led to speculation she might take the party leftwards – a move that would go down well with radical new members. But in her conference speech at the weekend, she took care to keep business onside, emphasising that her drive for social justice was dependant on a strong economy.

In these early days of her leadership, it would seem it is by concentrating on childcare and protecting the NHS that she intends to move forward from the Salmond era. Funding those ambitions will be tricky task at this time of austerity.

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