Experts on how Nicola Sturgeon emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic stronger than ever

At the start of Aprilnote-0, the United Kingdom was in lockdown, gripped by the peak of the spread of Covid-19, with hundreds dying every day in our care homes and our hospitals.

Politicians had scrambled to act, having delayed the decision to impose the national restrictions potentially leading to hundreds of preventable deaths.

Two weeks after that decision, the Prime Minister’s approval ratings soared to a net rating of +40 per cent, according to YouGov, while Nicola Sturgeon, having languished as low as -25 per cent in December last yeare, saw a shift upwards to +3 per cent, according to Opinium.

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Nine months on and the situation could not be more illustrative of the political mood of the country.

Nicola Sturgeon is more popular than Boris Johnson, but how has she done it?
Nicola Sturgeon is more popular than Boris Johnson, but how has she done it?

Ms Sturgeon’s ratings continued to rise to a peak of +21 per cent and now average +15 per cent, while Mr Johnson’s turned negative at the end of May, dropping to a low of -22 per cent in October.

However, their policy choice was much the same, with similar criticism on care homes alongside the chaos of exams results, the botched return of students to campuses and the return of lockdown in the winter.

Jo Silvester, professor of psychology at Loughborough University and a leading expert on the qualities of leadership, including helping political parties develop their selection processes, said key priorities for leaders included empathy, ability to communicate and resilience.

She said: “I'd say the First Minister has demonstrated all these qualities. I also think it's notable that she's accepted, first and foremost, as a First Minister, rather than a woman who is a First Minister. It's likely a mark of success that she's a woman applauded for her ability rather than her success at overcoming the odds.”

Karlo Basta, an expert in nationalism and a politics lecturer at Edinburgh University, puts the First Minister’s success down to her conservative approach to the pandemic.

He said: “Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Sturgeon proved herself to be a virtuoso of political minimalism when it comes to political messaging. Most of her framing around the pandemic has been understated and I think this economy of manoeuvre is what helped her standing.

"One thing I haven't seen talked about a lot is that Sturgeon parked the independence referendum for the sake of managing the health crisis, while Johnson continued hurtling toward a [hard] Brexit as if the world had not changed.

"I think this helps the SNP's reputation not only on competence, but on responsibility as well. That may not be of much use in any future referendum campaign, but it does make them look good by comparison to the Conservatives right now.”

Alan Convery, a senior lecturer in politics at Edinburgh University and expert on the Conservative Party, agreed that communication had been key to Ms Sturgeon’s success.

He said: “I think there is certainly the impression that Sturgeon has had a much better crisis communication strategy. It may take years to exactly compare how both England and Scotland coped with the pandemic, but Sturgeon appears well-briefed, consistent and has taken personal charge.

“Part of the problem for Johnson is perhaps that these restrictions go against fundamental Conservative instincts. It is therefore much more difficult for him to wholeheartedly embrace the logic of the lockdown strategy and communicate it consistently.”

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