Sturgeon: Scottish independence leader pushing for fresh referendum

a young boy wearing a pink shirt: Sturgeon's mother once joked about her daughter's hard-working tendencies: "The phone is never switched off" © RUSSELL CHEYNE Sturgeon's mother once joked about her daughter's hard-working tendencies: "The phone is never switched off"

Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon is using her party's decisive victory in elections for the devolved parliament to push Westminster for a fresh referendum on independence from the UK.

The 50-year-old has become the pre-eminent force in Scottish politics, earning a reputation for assured leadership since becoming first minister in the country's devolved government in 2014.

Nicola Sturgeon standing in front of a building: Sturgeon has become the pre-eminent force in Scottish politics © FRASER BREMNER Sturgeon has become the pre-eminent force in Scottish politics

She earned points among voters for her management of the coronavirus pandemic. Her clear communication style is cast by her supporters in contrast to mixed messages emanating from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the health crisis.

a person standing in front of a building: Sturgeon has been labelled "Queen of Scots" by some in the media © ANDY BUCHANAN Sturgeon has been labelled "Queen of Scots" by some in the media

Sturgeon's SNP has won at least 63 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament. 

The build-up to the elections was marred by mudslinging between Sturgeon and Alex Salmond, her former mentor and predecessor as first minister.

The pair spectacularly fell out over Sturgeon's handling of sexual harassment claims against Salmond.

Disagreements between the two political heavyweights reverberated into the election campaign and Salmond formed his own pro-independence party called Alba, which however failed to win a single seat.

- 'Queen of Scots' -

But questions remain over whether Scots will back independence in a referendum, with a string of surveys showing waning popular support for breaking away from the UK.

Sturgeon said in her victory speech on Saturday that Johnson had "simply no democratic justification" to prevent a second vote on independence.

The UK prime minister must approve the referendum, and has routinely ruled out a second one after Scottish voters rejected independence in 2014.

But in January, Sturgeon said Johnson was running scared, quoting Scotland's national poet Robert Burns, calling him a "timorous beastie".

For Sturgeon and the SNP, Britain's vote in 2016 to quit the European Union has changed the picture entirely. A majority of Scots wanted to stay in the EU.

A former lawyer labelled "Queen of Scots" by some in the media, Sturgeon argues for socially conscious policies she says were abandoned by the centre-left Labour party, once the dominant force in Scottish politics.

She was born in the industrial town of Irvine southwest of Glasgow, in 1970 to an electrician father and a mother who remains active in local SNP politics.

Sturgeon joined the SNP aged 16, becoming politicised in the 1980s when Conservative Margaret Thatcher, still widely reviled in Scotland, was Britain's prime minister.

She studied law at Glasgow University and stood unsuccessfully for the House of Commons in 1992, aged just 21, before starting her career as a lawyer.

- Glued to phone -

When the Scottish Parliament was created in 1999, with Labour ahead of the SNP as the biggest party, Sturgeon was one of its first wave of lawmakers. 

Her nickname at that stage was "nippy sweetie" -- Scots slang for a pushy person.

Her mother Joan once joked about her daughter's hard-working tendencies: "The phone is never switched off -- many of my family can vouch for that."

Sturgeon married SNP colleague Peter Murrell in 2010. The partnership has come under scrutiny after Murrell, the party's chief executive, was also embroiled in the Salmond investigation.

Sturgeon played a pivotal role in the party's campaign for the 2014 independence referendum. After 55 percent of Scots voted against, she took over as party leader and became Scotland's first female first minister.

"With all of our assets and talents, Scotland should be a thriving and driving force within Europe," she said in 2019.

"Instead we face being forced to the margins -- sidelined within a UK that is, itself, increasingly sidelined on the international stage."

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Sturgeon: Scottish independence leader pushing for fresh referendum