NICOLA Sturgeon has won the top accolade at The Herald Scottish Politician of the Year Awards, on the first anniversary of her becoming First Minister.
The SNP leader, who led her party to its monumental success at May’s General Election election when it scooped all but three of the 59 seats north of the Border, has now won the award for a record fourth time, overtaking Alex Salmond.
She beat off competition from Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, after maintaining remarkable popularity with voters over the past 12 months in which she forced closing the attainment gap between children from rich and poor families to the top of the political agenda, made meaningful progress on gender equality and saw her party’s membership soar to well over 110,000.
Nicola Sturgeon used her acceptance speech to pay a public tribute to her husband, the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.
She said: “Thank you very much… it’s a huge honour. It’s been without a shadow of a doubt the most exciting, exhilarating, and downright exhausting year of my life but it’s been an absolute privilege.”
The awards, which were held at Prestonfield House, Edinburgh, are now in their 17th year with last night’s the biggest event yet. They are supported by RBS Group, Scottish Power Renewables, NVT Group, the Improvement Service, Thompsons Solicitors and Virgin Trains.
Mr Robertson was named Best Scot at Westminster after managing the transition from having five other SNP MPs under his wing to 54 currently, and impressing with his performances at Prime Ministers’ Questions where his new status as leader of the third-largest party means he has second billing behind Jeremy Corbyn. Mhairi Black, who became the youngest MP for more than three centuries when she defeated shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander in Paisley and Renfrewshire South, and Scottish Secretary David Mundell, who has is steering the Scotland Bill through Westminster, were runners up. The award was sponsored by Virgin Trains.
Ms McInnes, the LibDem justice spokeswoman, has won plaudits for her tenacity in holding Police Scotland to account over stop and search and armed police. She was named Committee MSP of the Year, after starring on Holyrood’s justice committee and its sub-committee on policing.
Accepting her award, she said: “It’s a great honour to receive this award. I’ve heard people say that with a majority in the Scottish Parliament the committee system has been neutralised… this shows that if you’re determined, if you’re willing to build alliances both within and without parliament you can challenge policies and you can change legislation.”
Mr Findlay, the Lothians representative who made headlines when he quit his party’s front bench as Jim Murphy was attempting to cling on as Scottish Labour leader following the disastrous general election result, was named Community MSP of the year.
He has brought the fight against a new flight path to West Lothian, which was trialled by Edinburgh Airport without consultation with residents, to the floor of the Scottish Parliament and is continuing to push for a review into the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital in Livingston, which could signal its permanent downgrading, to be made available to voters before next year’s Holyrood elections.
Magnus Llewellin, editor-in-chief of the Herald and Times Group, said that 2015 had been a fascinating, exciting and historic year for politics, with the last 12 months including the SNP’s near clean sweep at the General Election and Jeremy Corbyn’s journey from obscure backbencher to leader of the UK Labour Party.
He also paid tribute to former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, a former nominee for the Best Scot at Westminster Award, who lost his Westminster seat in May and died weeks later aged 55.
Mr Llewellin said: “I once heard politics described as ‘the conduct of public affairs for private advantage’ – but that certainly was never the case with Charles Kennedy. Few politicians enjoyed such widespread affection and respect.”
He also vowed that the changing newspaper industry would continue to hold power to account, citing the fate of the soon to depart Police Scotland chief constable Sir Stephen House to those who question the clout of the Press in the internet age.
Mr Llewellin added: “We reject the efforts of some to denigrate and de-legitimise the work of what they dismiss as the ‘mainstream media’ or ‘dead tree news’. Social media has its place – of course it does – but it also has its limits.
“When I see some of the rubbish out there I recall a fellow editor who once, when asked about the reliability of citizen journalism, responded: ‘Well, would you trust your car with an untrained citizen mechanic?’ So, in 2016, us boring old professionals will continue to throw some spanners in the works and hold those who govern Scotland to account – just as we did this year.”
Mr Rennie, the Mid Scotland and Fife MSP, was awarded the Donald Dewar Debater of the Year, an award supported by the NVT Group, with judges again noting his party’s scrutiny of the single national police force.
In his acceptance speech, he said: “This shows what you can do with a team that punches well above its weight.”
Tory MSP Gavin Brown, in what is likely to be one of his final high-profile acts as a politician before he stands down from Holyrood, was given the Politics in Business Award, which is supported by RBS.
Accepting his prize, Mr Brown said: “I have tried to help create a business friendly parliament and parliament friendly businesses. I believe both parliament and business does better when they’re in tune with each other.”
David Parker, leader of Scottish Borders Council, was named Scottish Local Politician of the Year, supported by The Improvement Service.
Gordon Aikman, a former Labour press officer and research chief at Better Together, won the Thompsons Solicitors-backed public campaigner of the year award, one year after he won a special judges award at the 2014 event.
He was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease last year, and has gone on unite politicians across the party spectrum, securing a promise of new legislation to ensure people with degenerative conditions have access to computer voice technology and raising more than £400,000.
As a result of Mr Aikman’s campaign, Gordon’s Fightback, the NHS has also pledged to begin funding the specialist nurses who care for motor neurone disease patients in Scotland.
Mr Aikman said he was ‘blown away’ to win the award and thanked The Herald for its support.
He could not make his way to the stage, won a standing ovation after he used his acceptance speech to call for carers to be paid the Living Wage.
He said: “For the second year in a row I am blown away. Thank you in particular to The Herald… it’s been a huge support in more ways than one. One example in giving us a real public profile for the campaign and what we’ve been fighting for.
“Last year, I was here in this room, I walked up the stairs, across the stage and stood at the podium. This year, I can’t take a single step unaided, I wish I could. Last year, I ate my own dinner, this year, I had to be fed by a carer.
“It’s a scandal that some care workers in Scotland still do not get paid the living wage. Carers are for me my hands, my arms, my legs. They are my very freedom. Carers can do far more to improve my quality of life than any doctor.
“A consultant earns in six weeks what a carer earns in a year. That can and must change. We can starve councils of funding no more. It’s time to pay carers a living wage.”