Nicola Sturgeon is an unconventional face for a political revolution. The daughter of an electrician and a dental nurse, born into "a fairly standard, working-class family" in Dreghorn, a Scottish village that once stood on the edge of a coalfield and today acts as a sleepy suburb for the port city of Irvine, 'Wee Nicola' - as she's commonly known to the Scottish electorate - has subtly redrawn the battle lines of British politics and might, on Thursday, push back a hundred years of Labour dominance North of the border.
Of course, Nicola is only partly the reason for the success of the SNP. In part it is a reaction from a disenfranchised electorate, of fragmented Labour supporters, following a period of sustained nationalism, which failed to die - as many predicted - after last year's referendum. But, the woman once described as "the most dangerous woman in Britain" by the Daily Mail, has been instrumental in the scale and speed of the rise of the SNP and transformed it from an avenue for nationalist sentiment to a fully-fledged political operation.
At her core Nicola is an idealist. She has always been to the left of SNP politics, breaking with party line in her early years over Trident and refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen when she was sworn in as an MSP in 1999. Her fiercely independent views won her respect from Scottish voters, disheartened with compromise and collusion with the 'Westminster elite'. Praised for her tough stance on Iraq, she has built strong local support in the old shipyards of the Clyde, showing cut-through with Labour voters in key areas, including education and the NHS.
Now, nearly twenty years after she entered the political fray, the "nippy sweetie" - as she is affectionately known to the Glasgow electorate - is predicted by several pollsters to be on the verge of taking every single seat north of the border. Many have speculated this will place the party in the heart of British Government. This is unlikely and I doubt the party will force further devolution after 7 May.
Let's state the facts. The SNP have ruled out any pact with the Conservatives. That leaves Labour. But, Labour has ruled out "any kind of deal" with the nationalists as "unimaginable". That would force Labour or the Conservatives to form a minority government and win SNP support for policies on a vote-by-vote basis. At the moment the biggest two parties are neck-and-neck on 33 points each, but the Tories are probably going to win the most seats, strengthening their core vote as election night looms. That would force them to seek Liberal support, not probable after the disaster of con-lib government. Therefore Cameron would be defeated at his Queens' Speech and Miliband would form a minority government without formal SNP support. Such a government would be complex and volatile, but would not necessarily hand significant concessions to the nationalists. At least not immediately. However, 59 SNP seats in Westminster provide the party with a foothold for countless future generations.
To understand the struggle of Scottish nationalism you need to think long-term. The tides of nationalist fortunes rise and fall with the economy. Around the time Sturgeon joined the SNP in 1987, the factory closures and unemployment of the early Thatcher years gave nationalism strength. This rescinded during the Blair 'glory years', before rising again as Tory austerity began to be felt North of the border in 2005. It is likely that for as long as austerity remains on the ballot of each major party (as it probably will in 2020), nationalism will thrive and the SNP will grow from strength to strength. And as the European economy improves, Scottish independence will seem increasingly attractive.
To a degree Nicola Sturgeon is happily riding this wave. In a way she has orchestrated it. It doesn't really matter. She has competently held helm of her party during the most fundamental earthquake in British politics for a generation.
Mary Queen of Scots once remarked that Scotland was at its heart "a land of factions". This remains true. But, it is also fiercely independent. Nicola Sturgeon's greatest success has been in marrying the two. For the first time in living memory Scots feel both empowered and united. In the long term the effect of this will fundamentally shift the balance of power in our country.Suggest a correction