NICOLA Sturgeon yesterday promised to create greater opportunities for Scotland’s women when she was elected the country’s first female First Minister.
Ms Sturgeon put tackling gender inequality at the heart of her premiership as she pledged to close the male-female pay gap and to break down the barriers stopping women from achieving their ambitions.
In her first speech as Scotland’s leader, Ms Sturgeon also struck a conciliatory note in the wake of the referendum, saying she would be First Minister for all Scottish people, regardless of their views on independence.
Today Ms Sturgeon, 44, will be sworn in as First Minister at the Court of Session in Edinburgh once her election by MSPs at Holyrood has been formally approved by the Queen.
Last night, it emerged that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, had rung Ms Sturgeon to congratulate her on her election. Downing Street said Mr Cameron had underlined his commitment to the more powers vow made before the independence referendum by the pro-Union parties and pledged to deliver it on time.
With no-one in the SNP standing against her for the party leadership, it was a formality that Ms Sturgeon would succeed Alex Salmond as First Minister.
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In parliament, the SNP’s majority ensured that Ms Sturgeon saw off her sole challenger from the opposition benches – Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader. Ms Sturgeon received 66 votes courtesy of the SNP benches – comfortably defeating the 15 votes secured by Ms Davidson.
The vacancy at the top of the Labour party following Johann Lamont’s resignation meant that the main opposition party did not field a candidate against Ms Sturgeon.
Ms Sturgeon’s acceptance speech reflected her historic position as
Scotland’s first female leader. The new First Minister mentioned her eight-year-old niece, Harriet Owens, who was with other family members watching from the public gallery.
Ms Sturgeon said she hoped to play a prominent role in consigning gender inequality to history by the time her niece reached adulthood.
She said: “I hope that my election as First Minister does indeed help to open the gate to greater opportunity for all women. I hope that it sends a strong, positive message to girls and young women – indeed, to all women – across our land. There should be no limit to your ambition or what you can achieve.
“If you are good enough and if you work hard enough, the sky is the limit and no glass ceiling should ever stop you from achieving your dreams. Leading by example on equal representation, and encouraging others to follow, addressing low pay, improving childcare – these are the obligations I now carry and I am determined to discharge them on behalf of women across our country.
“My niece, who is in the public gallery today, with her brother and her cousins, is eight years old. She doesn’t yet know about the gender pay gap or under-representation or the barriers, like high childcare costs, that make it so hard for so many women to work and pursue careers. My fervent hope is that she never will.”
Also in the public gallery were the former MSP Kay Ullrich – with whom Ms Sturgeon campaigned as a teenager – and lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir, who have donated millions of pounds to the SNP and the independence cause.
Ms Sturgeon also attempted to reassure No voters that she would govern in their interests as well.
She said: “My pledge today to every citizen of our country is simple but it is heartfelt. I will be First Minister for all of Scotland. Regardless of your politics or your point of view, my job is to serve you – and I promise I will do so to the best of my ability.”
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “We live in a new era of Scottish democracy; those who we represent expect us to give our very best and we, all of us, must ensure that we do not disappoint them. They expect to see us debate vigorously but they don’t want us to divide rancorously.
“So let us work together to create a future for Scotland that is worthy of their dreams and their trust.”
Ms Davidson offered the new First Minister her warmest congratulations.
She said: “As women around the world seek equality and equity where currently there is none, I am personally delighted that they will look to Scotland and see another woman having fought her way, on merit, to the top.”
Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “While there is no doubting that this is a symbolic moment, what she does really matters far more. I sincerely hope she will use her position to promote the role of women in public life by making positive steps towards gender balance.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie described Ms Sturgeon’s appointment as “an outstanding personal achievement”.
He added: “I am not expecting her to change her views on Scotland’s constitutional future… but her government has had over three and a half years to make the case for independence, so would it not be respectful to invest all her power and her energy in the remaining 18 months to running the country.”
Scottish Green MSP Patrick Harvie said Ms Sturgeon is a “highly capable, professional and very impressive figure”.
A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Cameron had called Ms Sturgeon. He added: “The Prime Minister underlined his commitment to continue to deliver on the vow made by the three pro-UK parties for further powers to the Scottish Parliament.”
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