A close friend and colleague whom she had loved and respected for 30 years gave an account of events that were life-changing for all those involved.
Members of the committee fixated on why Nicola Sturgeon could remember that exchange in agonising detail but was unable to recall with equal clarity previously meeting a “special advisor”. Committee members found this discrepancy hard to grasp, repeatedly sceptical about such imperfect recall. They might have done better to bear in mind Mark Twain’s comment: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
In her torrent of finely detailed legal evidence Ms Sturgeon’s variable memory was a feature that many will in fact find very easy to understand – even if the committee didn’t.
For over five decades and in every possible context all over the world people have been able to recall where they were and what they were doing on the Friday that President Kennedy was shot. Who remembers what they were doing on the Tuesday? The dining room table conversation was so devastatingly painful that it overwhelmed what had preceded it. Nicola Sturgeon wished that was not the case, but her memory of the earlier instance was “obliterated” by the revelations of an unprecedented calamity.
Shared human experience “gets that”. The collective human memory has been expanded during the television age by indelible images of many disasters: the Ethiopian famine; the Challenger exploding; the 9/11 attacks; the Asian tsunami. For Ms Sturgeon’s predecessor the all-consuming disaster is losing the 2014 referendum. He can mourn that, but cannot forget it; unfortunately, he cannot “un-lose” it, either.
The task for First Minister Sturgeon is to persuade the people of Scotland to determine their own future by voting yes in the next one. Memorable indeed.
Dr Geraldine Prince
Victoria Road, North Berwick
Time to go
I see the story is being well spun that the First Minister did well before the committee investigating her government’s handling of accusations against Alex Salmond. In fairness, if there is anyone in Scotland who could spend the best part of eight hours talking about something but not actually saying anything of value it is the current First Minister. Talking is her particular skill. She can do it better than anyone.
I note some saying how in command of the detail she was, but if some clever person can work out how many times she said “I can’t”, “I don’t”, ”I am not sure”, “to the best of my knowledge” and other such phrases, we might well come up with some very interesting statistics.
What is beyond doubt in all this is that the process failed in dealing with this matter at the time. Everyone admits that. This committee is about that failure, not Alex Salmond. Ms Sturgeon was in charge of that failure.
It is hugely important that people do not get drawn into the fine detail of who said what to whom, and then get tied up with the complexity of it all. Ms Sturgeon admits she got drawn into things and made mistakes. That contributed to a failure of due process.
She says she takes responsibility. “Taking responsibility” has a particular meaning in politics.
I wonder if that really is her intention? It would certainly be the right way to draw a line under this. When the argument is about you, you know it is time to go.
Whatever the outcome of this committee hearing, whatever the outcome of the election even, there is an inevitable conclusion to this story. It will not end well.
Mamie’s Cottage, Aberfeldy, Perthshire
Trick of the mind
In his recent engaging piece (Scotsman, 3 March) Alexander McCall Smith mentions how memory can be very selective so that trivial matters are recalled with complete clarity while significant events are entirely forgotten. I can, alas, endorse that.
Another quirk I have encountered is being absolutely certain of a date or occurrence from the past only to discover that it is wrong – which can be somewhat embarrassing.
A further mental phenomenon I have encountered is what might be called created memory. It occurs when someone who has been “found out” or incommoded in some way starts to think “if only this or that had happened” instead of what did. Dwelling on this, the alternative reality is gradually fleshed out with all sorts of detail until it is believed that it is what actually occurred.
All this, of course, has nothing to do with the current stooshie at Holyrood, but it can be refreshing to ponder more abstract matters occasionally.
Craigleith Drive, Edinburgh
Whatever one believes about Ms Sturgeon's evidence at the Holyrood inquiry yesterday, it's remarkable how her performance has been portrayed.
She tried "to keep her emotions in check", she had a "bestie" in Mr Salmond, she displayed "raw, emotional edge and empathy." How touching! But would any man – never mind Mr Salmond – have got away with such a show?
Highfield Circle, Kinross
The real vipers
Having watched most of the televised questioning of Nicola Sturgeon at the Holyrood Inquiry, I was left full of admiration for her withstanding that interrogation for eight hours.
It became obvious to me also, who – and I quote Murdo Fraser – the "cesspit of vipers" really are and they are definitely not Nicola Sturgeon and her government.
Peter D Cheyne
Alder Cottage, Barbaraville, Invergordon
And so we have now heard from both sides.
Up front, I will confess to having supported the SNP's argument for independence; I have done since the days of William Wolfe. And it is with great heartache that I find both sides of this internecine squabble more fixated with the politicking than the political. Politicking is not a calling. Politicking is a disease. Politics has not failed, politicians have failed. A future in politics may seduce, but if you reduce yourself to politicking you are always going to be faced with “Aye – I kent when...”
I remember as a student at St Andrews, when most of us were trying hard to get as good a degree as we could, wondering about these, our contemporaries: those n’er-do-wells... Michael Forsyth, Alex Salmond, Michael Fallon, et al. Would they ever get a proper job to benefit society? How naïve! None of them had that in mind – gladiatorial politicking was everything to them. And to this very day the impression remains more of egotistic personalities than strongly held beliefs.
So what to do? I once believed the SNP's claim to represent a true Scottish dimension. Now it seems I am disabused even of that belief. If the least-worst option is still to vote for what I truly believe in, whatever that now is, then so be it. Least worst? That says it all. A plague on all their houses, to mis-quote Shakespeare.
Main Streeet, Kirknewton, Midlothian
Waste of time
Having watched parts of the First Minister’s evidence to the committee, am I alone in finding the whole affair an embarrassment which holds Scotland up to ridicule? It is hard to escape the feeling that the matter is a waste of time and resources.
The public well know by now that most politicians habitually lie and spin to serve their own purposes. So what if the First Minister may have been a little economical with the truth on occasion?
It remains the case that there is no effective opposition to the government in Scotland which, coupled with the fact that the First Minister is popular and thought to be handling the pandemic well, means that the election remains a foregone conclusion irrespective of the outcome of the inquiry.
Time to move on and return to matters of domestic significance.
Main Street, Symington, Biggar
Kenny MacAskill (Scotsman, 4 March) comments on the performance of members in the Scottish Parliament and says that script-reading of questions is cringeworthy.
He should put at the top of his list SNP MSPs clapping speeches of their leader in the chamber.
Mardale Crescent, Edinburgh
Pay your taxes
To those mewling about their increased "tax burden" from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, ask yourselves – where will the money to beat Covid-19 come from? Where will the money for the NHS come from? Where will the money for the rebuilding of the country come from?
If anyone still believes the old fairy tale that private "entrepreneurs" will provide all the economic stimulus we need – rather than simply seek the fastest buck and devil take the hindmost what happens to the world – I've some tins of tartan paint to sell them.
The private sector has proven worse than useless in this crisis, crying and whining about its lot 24/7 and demanding more of the very handouts it complained increased its "tax burden" pre-Covid when given to the "little people".
Too many people in this country have forgotten that the basics allowing them to sleep safely in bed at night in a civilised society rather than taking turns keeping watch with a shotgun come from the "tax burden".
Anyone seeking to actively avoid paying their bit at this defining crisis in our country's history is as much a traitor as ISIS bride Shamima Begum.
Linn Park Gardens, Johnstone, Renfrewshire
Write to The Scotsman
We welcome your thoughts. Write to [email protected] including name, address and phone number. Keep letters under 300 words, with no attachments, and avoid Letters to the Editor in your subject line.
A message from the Editor
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.