ELECTION EXCLUSIVE: Nicola Sturgeon On Her Fear Of Being Found Out

ELECTION EXCLUSIVE: Nicola Sturgeon On Her Fear Of Being Found Out

Our future's hands...

by Contributor |
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INTERVIEW by Gaby Hinsliff

FOR such a towering political figure, Nicola Sturgeon, 44, is unexpectedly tiny in the flesh, even in skyscraper stilettos. (The SNP leader, who stands a little above 5ft 4in, loves heels but won’t buy expensive ones because, apparently, they’d only get trashed on the cobblestones around the Scottish Parliament, which, as Scotland’s First Minister, she heads.)

But nobody doubts the height of her ambition. Even after she became SNP leader last November, following her party’s defeat in the Scottish independence vote, few outside Scotland knew her. But the televised leaders’ debates made her a star and, suddenly, the big guns are running scared. She’s been dubbed ‘the most dangerous woman in Britain’ – which she laughs off as the ‘nicest thing’ the tabloids have ever said about her. Meanwhile, commentators have pored over the so-called ‘Nicola Project’ of transforming her slightly dowdy early image into today’s glamorous woman on a mission.

Love her or loathe her, it feels like everyone’s gripped by the story of the girl from an Ayrshire council house, the comprehensive-schooled daughter of an electrician and a dental nurse, who rose to become the most powerful woman in British politics today. Here, Nicola reveals exclusively to Grazia how she did it.

**What were you like as a teenager? **

Quite studious and bookish. I had my rebellious moments, like most teenagers – drinking behind the bike sheds – but I wasn’t particularly rebellious. Is it true you had a punk phase? I did. It’s pretty awful when the pictures are trotted out. As a young politician [Nicola was 29 when elected to the Scottish Parliament], you had a reputation for toughness.

**Did you feel you had something to prove? **

Definitely! As a young woman in politics, with few women around, you start to subconsciously behave like men in politics. That comes across as quite hard, tough and humourless, but you’re trying to be taken seriously. People ask me what’s changed and I say, ‘I’ve got older!’ That’s it. I’m more comfortable in my skin, I know myself better.

You’re famously hard-working…

There’s a very working-class Scottish thing: a fear of failure. A fear of being found out; that no matter how good you’ve been, the next interview or speech will be the one you mess up. That does instil a discipline to work hard. There’s nothing in my background that would have said I was destined to be a senior politician. Everything I’ve done has been built on hard work and determination.

**…And famously undomesticated. **

I don’t cook very often. Actually, I’d go further: I can’t cook. Luckily, I’ve got a husband [SNP chief executive Peter Murrell] who’s a good cook, although we were doing an interview in the house last weekend and he managed to burn the toast.

**How are you coping with being First Minister and running a campaign? **

My lifestyle at the moment is probably not the healthiest: not a lot of sleep, probably not eating properly, lots of coffee. I’ve got a cross-trainer at home that I try to use. You should see it just now – there’s piles of ironing on it!

**Does people’s fascination with your clothes annoy you? **

I’m resigned to the fact I can’t do much about it. I’ve decided to use it as an opportunity to showcase some Scottish designers, working with one particular company in Edinburgh, Totty Rocks. But I do still get annoyed, because if I read something particularly derogatory about me I can shrug it off, but I increasingly find myself visualising the young girl who might want to be a politician, thinking, ‘I don’t think I’ll bother because I don’t want to put up with that.’

Is it true you use a stylist?

I take advice – Zoe [Radcliffe], [Totty Rocks’ designers] Holly Mitchell and Lynsey Blackburn, and Julie McGuire, who cuts my hair and does make-up. These are people I’ve looked to on particular occasions but, day to day, for better or worse, I look after myself.

**Do you worry that, like with Cleggmania during the last election, Sturgeonmania can’t last? **

I’ve been in Government seven years now! In Scotland, what’s happening is just qualitatively different to what happened with Nick Clegg. It flows from much deeper change. Then there’s the simple fact that I’m not Nick Clegg: I’m not about to go into coalition with the Tories and sell out on my principles.

**Have you ever felt held back or discriminated against as a woman? **

Held back? No. Treated differently? Yes, all the time. Less so now, but every woman in a senior position will, I’m sure, tell similar stories of sitting around a table and people addressing themselves to the man, whether he’s more junior or not. I’ve got an eight-year-old niece [Nicola and Peter don’t have children, something she’s said wasn’t a ‘conscious decision’ but just happened] and by the time she’s a young woman I want us to have won a lot of these battles.

The famous leaders group hug [Getty]
The famous leaders group hug [Getty]

**Tell us about that now famous group hug that you, [Green Party leader] Natalie Bennett and [Plaid Cymru leader] Leanne Wood shared following the televised leaders’ debate. **

We were broadly in there to tear each other’s hair out, but there’s a very natural female thing, at the end of something very stressful, to say, ‘You did well!’ and give each other encouragement. I slightly regret that we didn’t invite Ed Miliband in, because I think he might’ve agreed.

**Any advice for reaching the top? **

Follow your heart, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t; help other women as you go; and work hard. But there are some big systemic barriers and no amount of rhetoric about breaking the glass ceiling will change them. There needs to be lots of really practical concerted action.

*Why the SNP matters south of the border *

The SNP is forecast to win up to 46 seats in Scotland – against just six in 2010 – taking them mostly from Labour. So if David Cameron also does better than expected, Ed Miliband could be squeezed out of Downing Street. But if things stay neck-and-neck and there’s no clear winner between Labour and the Tories, the next Prime Minister will probably be whoever wins the support of smaller parties – and the SNP says it would back Labour. Our futures may well be in Nicola Sturgeon's hands.

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