Nicola Sturgeon will give evidence to the UK Covid inquiry in Edinburgh later. At the height of the pandemic, Scotland’s then first minister was a near-constant presence on the nation’s TVs and her popularity soared.
At one point, polls suggested an astonishing 100-point gap in net satisfaction ratings between the SNP leader and the Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson – a man we now know Ms Sturgeon dismissed privately as a “clown”. But nearly a year after her shock resignation, Ms Sturgeon’s reputation is tarnished.
She has faced criticism of her record on education, drug deaths and gender reform – some of it from fellow supporters of independence, who are also frustrated about a lack of progress towards that goal.
In June, Ms Sturgeon was arrested – and later released without charge – in an ongoing police investigation into the finances of the SNP which saw officers pitch a tent on the lawn of her home in the suburbs of Glasgow.
And now her pandemic leadership is coming under close scrutiny. During the first two weeks of the inquiry sitting in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon has been accused of an instinct to hoard power rather than seek help.
It emerged that on Humza Yousaf’s first day in the job as Scotland’s health secretary in May 2021, National Clinical Director Jason Leitch sent him a WhatsApp message which read: “She actually wants none of us. Not only did the Scottish cabinet never hold a vote on Covid, according to former deputy first minister John Swinney’s evidence on Tuesday, but “in my 16 years in the cabinet, there wasn’t a single vote on any single issue because that’s not how cabinet did its business”.
Giving evidence to the inquiry last week, Mr Yousaf defended his predecessor, saying: “There were times the former first minister needed a tighter cast list and wanted a tighter cast list to make a decision on a specific issue.”
The second accusation levelled at Ms Sturgeon is one of secrecy.
The inquiry has heard that it was Scottish government policy to delete messages on platforms such as WhatsApp after decisions and salient points had been officially recorded – a process which Prof Leitch once called a “pre-bed ritual”.
When he tried to disavow that remark as “flippant,” the inquiry chairwoman, Baroness Heather Hallett, remarked that the tone of some WhatsApps did suggest “a rather enthusiastic adoption of the policy of deleting messages”.
Ms Sturgeon, the inquiry previously heard, was among those who deleted messages, despite assuring Ciaran Jenkins of Channel 4 News in August 2021 that she would turn over all relevant communications to the hearings.