WHEN she was elected as First Minister in 2014, Nicola Sturgeon made history as the first woman to take charge in Bute House.

“I hope that it sends a strong, positive message to girls and young women – indeed, to all women – across our land. There should be no limit to your ambition or what you can achieve,” she said at the time.

Now she is entering the history books again. Having served a total of seven years, six months and five days in the top job, she has today become Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister, by overtaking her predecessor Alex Salmond.

It’s an achievement which has been praised as “landmark” by her deputy John Swinney – who has also pledged the work for independence is being “stepped up”.

Sturgeon’s premiership got off to a spectacular start with a sell-out tour of the country, including before a 12,000 crowd at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro – an event which also saw the launch of The National.

The first test of her leadership came with the 2015 General Election – in which the SNP swept to success with 56 of 59 seats at Westminster. What followed was sustained electoral success for the party that even Sturgeon could never have dreamed of in her early days in politics, cementing the SNP as Scotland’s leading party and herself as one of the most well-known politicians in the UK.

During the Covid pandemic, Sturgeon saw her popularity soar as her televised daily briefings became a fixture for many households. Her handling of the Covid response was widely seen as being more effective than Boris Johnson’s.

But it was of course, not an easy time. In April 2020, she spoke of struggling with the magnitude of the pandemic, adding: “I’ve shed a few tears over the course of the last few weeks.”

And the following year, with Covid crisis still high on the agenda, Sturgeon also had to cope with a high-profile fight for her political life at the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s bungled investigation into sexual misconduct claims made against Salmond in 2018.

Her profile has also increased globally as well as at home in recent years – not least at the COP26 summit in Glasgow last November where she posed for pictures with US President Joe Biden and Greta Thunberg and gifted US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a can of Irn-Bru.

She has also made it onto the pages of Vogue – including the magazine naming her as one of the 25 most influential women in the UK earlier in the year.

Not bad for a “working-class girl from Ayrshire”, as Sturgeon described herself when taking on the job of heading up the government of Scotland.

Born in Irvine, North Ayrshire, on July 19, 1970, Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon attended Greenwood Academy in Dreghorn before studying law at Glasgow University and then working as a solicitor at an advice centre in the city’s Drumchapel area.

Sturgeon said she was inspired to enter politics as a reaction against growing up in the era of Margaret Thatcher.

She entered the political arena in earnest at just 21 – in a losing effort at the 1992 General Election – but would go on to hone her political skills as one of the first tranche of MSPs to be elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

In an interview on Desert Island Discs to mark her first year of leadership she said: “My political awakening, if I can be as grand as to call it that, was all about what was happening around me.

“It wasn’t some romantic, patriotic vision of Scotland going back to what it had been 300 years previously. It was very much about a sense of hopelessness in the community I was growing up in.”

On the programme, she also named her favourite record as combining her pride in Scotland and love of her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – choosing Eddi Reader’s version of the Burns song “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose”, which was played on their wedding day.

There is often no love lost between the First Minister and her opponents in the world of politics.

To mark her achievement of becoming the longest serving First Minister, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross sent a message of criticism not congratulations, attacking the Scottish Government’s record on drug deaths, ferries, health services and closing the education attainment gap.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar had a similar reflection on her tenure, claiming her legacy will be one of “division”.

After 15 years in power, Sturgeon faces the challenge of keeping the party and policies fresh.

Also high on the agenda will be the delivery of another referendum – which she fired the starting gun on at the weekend with a pledge to publish an updated prospectus outlining the case for the UK “shortly”.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney reiterated that message that work to deliver independence is stepping up as he praised Sturgeon reaching the milestone.

“Becoming Scotland’s longest serving First Minister is a landmark achievement and one that Nicola Sturgeon can look on with pride,” he said.

“As the country’s first female leader, her tenure has helped make Scotland a better, fairer country for all who live here.

“It has seen a huge expansion of childcare, progress in closing the attainment gap in schools and the access gap to universities, the establishment from scratch of a Scottish welfare system, including game-changing measures to combat child poverty, as well as taking forward world-leading action to tackle climate change.

“And under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership we will redouble those efforts in the years to come.

“All of these policies are helping lay solid foundations for an independent Scotland, and we will now step up the work to deliver independence.”

The “ultimate judges” of Sturgeon’s leadership, Swinney pointed out, are “of course the electorate”. And the verdict, he said, is that “in election after election, they continue to give her a resounding endorsement”.