Why Nicola Sturgeon's popularity grows with Covid home truths - Lesley Riddoch

Shooting the messenger has become a national sport - or so some papers would have us believe.

Chief Clinical Officer Professor Jason Leitch

It’s suddenly fashionable to mock and attack public servants who have the gall to tell us what we already know. Covid is on the rise again, it’s a killer and that’s bound to put the dampener on seasonal fun.

Deep down we all know that.

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But using common sense, acting with a conscience and taking responsibility don’t shift papers.

Far easier to try and demonise the folk prepared to tell it like it is.

Last week, national clinical director Jason Leitch apparently “devastated” Scots after urging families to prepare for a “digital Christmas”, remarking: “We are not going to be in large groupings, with multiple families coming around - that is fiction for this year.”

Days later, scientist Professor John Edmunds warned: “The notion we can carry on and have a Christmas [where we] celebrate normally with friends and family is wishful thinking in the extreme.”

He was promptly dismissed online as a ‘sinister Sage goon’.

And yesterday, a tabloid newspaper described John Swinney as “Minister for Misery”, responsible for “killing off Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night and Christmas”.

Now Mr Swinney is a parent himself and clearly has no mission to mindlessly cancel anything that gets families through long, dark winter days. But since the deputy FM’s also an experienced politician, he appears to be fair game.

But I’d love to know if the bulk of Scottish public opinion is with or against him.

Are folk outraged about no trick or treating or are canny parents everywhere calmly planning a return to homespun ‘traditional’ Scottish Hallowe’ens instead? Are families devastated to hear their worst fears about Christmas confirmed, or sad but thankful that straight-talking, advance notice lets them figure out how to keep isolated family members connected, instead of facing a chaotic, last-minute crackdown or a dodgy, nervy ‘normal’ Christmas?

Are we children who stamp our collective feet at disappointing, but life-saving government advice, or is the average Scot more responsible than that - and more adaptable?

Probably, the public mood in Scotland is a contradictory blend of both reactions - but it would be a mistake for anyone to misgauge the mood, overstep the mark and treat Covid as just another opportunity to ‘have fun’ at the expense of the Scottish Government.

Nicola Sturgeon decided not to row back after Leitch’s comments raised eyebrows last week. The First Minister said her government would not "tell people what they want to hear to make it easier in the here and now".

But while public officials in Scotland were managing expectations by dishing out realism, Boris Johnson’s folk were egging the public on.

Cabinet minister Steve Barclay said a normal Christmas was “a shared endeavour for all of us. The ability of families to spend Christmas together – is something we all hope to be in a position to do”.

The PM’s spokesman added: “We've been clear about the ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year.”

Well that’s the brandy as good as poured over the Christmas Pud then - or is it?

Opinion polls suggest it’s not sugar-coated Boris, but plain-speaking Nicola Sturgeon whose leadership is most admired - not just in Scotland, but across the country.

New polling from YouGov has given the First Minister a positive approval rating of plus four across Great Britain – up from minus 32 this time last year.

The Sturgeon surge is evident in every region of England bar one, where overall backing for Johnson has fallen from minus seven to minus 19.

The most marked increase is in the north of England, where the FM’s rating has risen from minus 38 to plus 5 points while the PM’s ratings have headed south - falling from minus eight to minus 23.

It’s much the same story in London.

So how come Sturgeon’s tough love messages seems to boost her popularity whilst promising all things to all people does next to nothing for Boris Johnson?

Firstly, folk aren’t daft. Secondly voters everywhere respect politicians confident and focused enough to tell it like it is - so long as their wider actions speak of empathy, caring and humanity.

And if you wonder what happens when you do none of the above - watch Boris, a man elected only to “Get Brexit Done,” who’s finally reaping what he’s sown.

Nothing. No trust. No belief. And trouble on every front.

Trouble in the rebellious North of England, trouble in independence-ready Scotland, trouble with parents, Marcus Rashford fans and human beings over his Grinch-like school meals stance, trouble with the Covid test and trace contracts dished out to Tory pals, trouble with Tory-supporting papers, trouble landing a US trade deal if Biden wins and the Belfast Peace Agreement cannot be quietly dumped, trouble as the North Atlantic populist bubble looks set to burst, and even trouble with the TV ad that tells business to prepare for January 1st.

One finance director tweeted; “Getting your business ready for Brexit can take longer than you think. No s**t Sherlock. Ten weeks to go and we still don't know what the deal is.”

Rarely has a Prime Minister with such a massive majority faced such an overwhelming abyss. Will the simple fact of Brexit be enough to get Boris out of jail? Or are the Tories’ grey men already gathering to arrange a replacement?

Nicola Sturgeon’s public health team must grow weary of the predictable pelters, but their reward is grudging respect amongst voters. What keeps Boris going?

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