NICOLA Sturgeon has been named The Herald Scottish Politician of the Year for a record fifth time for her unprecedented influence over the UK political system.
The SNP leader was recognised for reinvigorating her party and its mission after electoral setbacks in 2017 and for artfully merging the case against Brexit with one in favour of independence.
She has also fostered a sense of inevitability about another referendum, pushing Labour to drop its blanket opposition, and even wringing grudging concessions from key Conservatives.
Her handling of the issue has put her at the centre of a General Election campaign in which her party is expected to regain seats, and from which she could well emerge as Westminster kingmaker.
She also declared a climate emergency at her spring conference, then led the SNP to its best ever result in the European elections, with the party winning half of Scotland’s six MEPs.
The First Minister, who this week marked her fifth anniversary in Bute House, collected the prestigious award last night after a four-year gap since her previous win in 2015.
She said: “I’m delighted to receive this award and I congratulate all of the other winners tonight.
“This is a recognition of the strong stance the Scottish Government and the SNP have taken in protecting Scotland’s interests over the past year.
“Brexit and its effects are posing the most profound challenges , and we will continue to stand up for our national interests in the year ahead.”
Ms Sturgeon beat off competition from Green MSP John Finnie, who was voted runner-up after getting two highly contentious pieces of legislation on to the statute book – the smacking ban and the workplace parking levy – and from acting Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw, who was nominated after stepping up to replace Ruth Davidson.
However Mr Carlaw did win the Donald Dewar Debater of the Year award. His consistently sharp and strong performances at First Minister’s Questions were recognised in a category sponsored by NVT Group.
Ms Sturgeon paid tribute to runner-up John Finnie for getting the smacking ban into law, and said it would be a “fantastic legacy” for him when he steps down from Holyrood in 2021.
Watch: The moment Nicola Sturgeon is named Scottish Politician of the Year
She said: “It’s very rare in politics for a non-government MSP to get an Act of parliament onto the statute book. John has achieved that to give children the same protection against physical assault that adults already have. I think that is a great achievement.
“It has also helped pave the way for the Scottish Government incorporating directly into Scottish law the UN convention on the rights of the child, embedding children’s rights in law. It would have been very difficult for us to make that commitment without John’s Bill.”
She added: “There’s lots that divides us. We’re all in politics for different reasons. But regardless of that, all of us come into politics to do the best for our constituents and do the very best we can for those we serve, and in my case, in the case of my party, to stand up for Scotland and our right to choose our own future.
“That’s the reason we’re all in politics. Thank you very much for the award.”
The SNP’s Joanna Cherry QC was the unanimous choice of the judges in the Best Scot at Westminster category supported by Virgin Trains.
She was recognised for her pivotal role in a series of legal challenges against the UK Government over Brexit and the unlawful prorogation of Parliament.
She also helped expose legal flaws in the Government’s notorious contract with a ferry firm without any ferries, and has become one of the SNP’s most gifted media communicators.
Ms Cherry beat her colleague Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, nominated for consistently hitting his target at Prime Minister’s Questions, and Jo Swinson, who has taken an uncompromising stance against Brexit as the new UK leader of the Liberal Democrats.
The Public Campaign of the Year was won by the British Heart Foundation Scotland for its “Nation of Lifesavers” campaign to ensure CPR is taught in all secondary schools.
After failing to get support from the Scottish Government, the Foundation persuaded Glasgow City Council to sign up to the idea, which in turn led to all of Scotland’s other 31 councils following suit within 10 months.
The campaign, which was endorsed by The Herald’s sister paper the Evening Times, means 50,000 pupils will be trained each year in CPR skills that will save lives for generations.
David McColgan, Head of BHF Scotland, said: “We are thrilled to have won. To be recognised at The Herald Politician of the Year is testament to the hard work of the team at BHF Scotland.
“We’d like to extend a special thank you to Scotland’s local authorities who worked with us to make it a reality for all school pupils to be trained in CPR before they leave school.”
Also recognised for her work on health was Labour MSP Jackie Ballie, who was named Community MSP of the Year for helping to secure cystic fibrosis drugs for her Dumbarton constituents, a campaign that also had national ramifications.
Also commended in this category, which is sponsored by the Scottish Grocers’ Federation, were the SNP’s Angela Constance for supporting families of people killed abroad, and the SNP’s Gail Ross for advancing rural rights.
The judging panel, chaired by Donald Martin, Editor of The Herald and The Herald on Sunday, went through intense deliberations before coming to their conclusions, with many of the results narrowly decided on a points system.
He said: “This has been an extraordinary year for politics with leadership changes, the never-ending Brexit saga, legal battles in the highest courts and now another General Election.
“Scottish politicians, in both Westminster and Holyrood, have been at the forefront of these seismic events.
“On behalf of the public they serve, we salute those making an impact in the political world for all the right reasons and we congratulate and thank all our winners and finalists.”
Now in their 21st year, the awards were sponsored by Virgin Trains, NVT Group, ScottishPower, Royal Bank of Scotland, Openreach and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation.