Nicola Sturgeon becomes new leader of the SNP

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NEWLY installed SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon will today say her party could be the king­makers in next year’s UK election – and is likely to prop up a Labour administration.

Ms Sturgeon will insist the SNP will “never” put the Tories into power, but will use her keynote conference address to brand Ed Miliband’s party “desperate” in Scotland with “no positive case” to make.

Nicola Sturgeon becomes  the new leader of the SNP with her deputy  Stewart Hosie. Picture: Jane Barlow

Nicola Sturgeon becomes the new leader of the SNP with her deputy Stewart Hosie. Picture: Jane Barlow

The 44-year-old was formally installed as party leader yesterday after ten years as Alex Salmond’s deputy. She will become Scotland’s First Minister next week after a vote in the Scottish Parliament. Her deputy will be Stewart Hosie, MP for Dundee East.

Accepting the party leadership in Perth yesterday, Ms Sturgeon said she was “overwhelmed by a feeling of privilege and responsibility”. The Glasgow South MSP set an immediate target of winning a majority of Scottish seats in next year’s UK election, with the Nationalists riding high in the polls after a membership surge following the referendum defeat.

She will use her first full address as party leader today to attack claims that only a Labour vote in UK elections can keep out the Tories.

“Scotland did vote Labour at the last general election, but we still ended up with the Tories,” she will say. And if the people of England vote Tory again next May, it won’t matter how we vote. A Tory government is what we’ll get. Or worse a Tory/Ukip government.”

Scotland will need “strong SNP MPs” to fight the country’s corner under such a scenario, she will add. “Perhaps this time Scotland’s votes will count. Scotland could well hold the balance of power in a Westminster parliament with no overall majority. If that happens, I promise you this. You won’t need to have voted Labour to keep the Tories out because that’s what we’ll do.

“My pledge to Scotland today is this – the SNP will never put the Tories into government.”

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It is unlikely that the SNP would enter a formal coalition with Labour but could support Mr Miliband’s party through a “confidence-and-supply” arrangement.

Ms Sturgeon has faced claims she will be Scotland’s most left-wing leader since devolution, but will today pledge to champion Scottish business “at home and around the globe.”

The new leader will pledge to continue the £165 million small-business bonus next year – and throughout the next parliament – if the SNP wins the 2016 Holyrood election.

Ms Sturgeon has yet to reveal if the SNP will pledge to hold another referendum on independence, when its manifesto emerges for the 2016 Holyrood elections, and insisted a decision will be taken at an “appropriate moment”.

Mr Salmond was hailed as the “hardest of acts to follow” by the new leader.

“He has been an outstanding leader of our party and an ­outstanding First Minister of Scotland,” she said. “We owe him the most enormous debt of ­gratitude.”

As well as talking about Westminster, the new leader set out two other priorities. At Holyrood, the party must govern ­Scotland to the “best of our ability” with “commitment, imagination and vision,” she said, adding that the SNP must also keep up the fight for independence ­despite the defeat in the ­referendum.

She said: “I believe today as strongly as I ever have that we should be independent. I believe today more strongly than we ever have that we will be independent. That will only happen when a majority of our citizens vote for that in a referendum.

“Our task remains as it has always been – not to impose our will, not to berate those who disagree with us.

“But to persuade – to respectfully and intelligently, through the strength of our arguments and the strength of our actions, persuade a majority of our fellow Scots that the best future for our country, the way to build a more prosperous more successful country, a fairer society, is for us to become a normal, independent nation. That is our task.”

Opponents claimed that the new SNP leadership team is “obsessed” with the result of the referendum. Anas Sarwar, interim leader of Scottish Labour, said: “They promised a new style of leadership, but, in their opening remarks to their conference, both showed they are still obsessed by the referendum defeat.

“The people of Scotland voted in overwhelming numbers against independence, but they want to use the General Election to fight the referendum again.”

Tory leader Ruth Davidson said that SNP did not know what it was for “without the constant struggle” for independence. “That’s why Scotland’s prospective First Minister, hot off the back of a referendum defeat, has decided her priority for government should be to ignore the democratic will of the country in favour of an early re-run.”

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