Nicola Sturgeon, once branded “the most dangerous woman in Britain” by the London tabloid, the Daily Mail, says she isn’t feeling very dangerous at all.
Rather, Scotland’s First Minister is bursting with pride about the introduction of new laws aimed at tackling domestic violence and criminalizing the ugly internet phenomenon known as “revenge porn.”
The only woman to lead the Scottish National Party and win the country’s top political job, Sturgeon’s powerful leadership and progressive rhetoric has seen a boom in her party’s membership and a decimation of Scottish Labour. Her Cabinet consists of 50 percent women and she is a vocal advocate of quotas to redress gender imbalances.
Yesterday however, Sturgeon warned that true gender equality is impossible until domestic violence against women is ended.
In conversation with author and editor, Sir Harold Evans at the Women in the World Summit in London, Sturgeon said more than 60,000 incidents of domestic violence are reported in Scotland each year. “What makes it much worse is that only one in five are reported so the scale of it is much, much bigger. I believe passionately that domestic violence is not only a symptom of gender inequality, of power and imbalance,” she said. “Domestic violence is also a cause of gender inequality and we can’t have equality unless we eradicate it.”
She said Scotland’s proposed new “Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill” will re-define domestic violence acts as “aggravators” in sentencing decisions, and give judges new powers to direct juries and explain factors that have been shown to undermine women’s veracity in court. These include background on why it is that women often take many years to leave violent partners or may need to make multiple attempts to escape abusive homes. “We have also created a new law against revenge porn which is when a partner uses the internet to sexually humiliate and degrade their former partner. It is a despicable degradation and really should be a crime.”
Born in Irvine, Ayrshire, in 1970, Sturgeon was one of three daughters of an electrician father and nurse mother. She was the first of her family to go to university and studied law at the University of Glasgow, later working as a solicitor.
Sturgeon said she was the product of Scotland’s free university tuition system and if she had had to incur large debts or pay big tuition fees, it is unlikely she would have been able to undertake tertiary studies. “I benefited from a free university and I have no right to take that away from any young person coming up behind me. I feel that very, very strongly” she said.
While law was her first career choice, politics was also an early passion and by 1992, the year she graduated, Sturgeon had already been an SNP member for six years, becoming Scotland’s youngest parliamentary candidate.
As a young activist, Sturgeon cut her teeth on the SNP’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the push to scrap Britain’s nuclear weapons was one of her election policies.
When Sir Harold asked her if the recent debate over the renewal of Trident, Britain’s nuclear submarine deal still “turned her on”, the First Minister laughed and suggested he might like to “rephrase” his question. “I feel passionately about my opposition to nuclear weapons and it does not come from a naïve, simplistic point of view. I just don’t think they are the answer to our problems, particularly in times of austerity when working families are seeing tax credits cut and, as that happens, we also plan to spend 100 billion pounds on Trident.”
“It is inexplicable. A strong, conventional military force is needed but what we don’t need is nuclear weapons.”
Asked about Scotland’s response to the immigration crisis, the Scottish First Minister said she believed the U.K. should take more refugees than the 20,000 pledged by PM David Cameron and signalled that Scotland would happily welcome more.
She also added that she was outraged by the Conservative Government’s promise to scrap European Human Rights laws: “How can we, in a civilized country, be talking about repealing this legislation. It is incredible,” she said to widespread applause from a predominantly British audience.
“Which human right do you argue is not essential? And what about the impact domestically on how we are seen by the world when countries like Russia, like Zimbabwe and others, cite U.K. pulling out as justification for them doing the same? Surely that is not the image we want outside?”
Ensuring that the U.K. remained within the ambit of EU Human Rights laws, she added, was not only possible but would be the “best defeat” inflicted on David Cameron.
“This would be a hugely backward step and I’m sure it can be defeated … this is something that is hardwired into the legislation that established the Scottish Parliament. It is inevitable the U.K. will need Scotland to consent … and there is no chance that will happen!”