FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon spoke to Heart Scotland tonight to discuss a range of issues and give Scots a message of hope during the crisis.

The SNP leader spoke to Drive with Des Clarke and Jennifer Reoch, telling the presenters how proud she is of Scotland's spirit at this difficult time.

Sturgeon also spoke on the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on her personally.

Below are transcribed sections of the wide-ranging interview



JR: It’s difficult for everyone at the moment, everyone’s having those moments – myself included – where you just have a bit of a meltdown. I had one on Friday night, I decided I needed a cry - have you had those moments as well?

NS: Yeah I have actually. I mean, there’s been moments where, you know, remember, and again I keep saying this – not because I’m wanting to be cliched or all virtuous about it but because it’s true - you know, if you’re working in the health service, as my sister does, as my sister-in-law does, you’re dealing with patients up close and personal. You’ll be seeing some terrible, horrible things. You’ll be with patients in the last moments of their life so nothing I can say is comparing with that in any way but standing up as I do at the daily briefing every day and announcing numbers of people who have died is not easy. It’s really difficult. And I always try to remind myself, and I say this as well, that these aren’t statistics, they are people, and in my head as I read out these statistics, I’m always thinking about people. About my own relatives, about people I know, because it could be any one of us.

But yeah, there are moments when, over the last few weeks, when I’ve got home at night and just felt a little bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of it, and I’ve shed a few tears over the course of the last few weeks. But it’s really important – nobody wants me to be having a meltdown if I can avoid it - so I try to have these moments, not let them last too long, and pull myself together to get on with it.

JR: I think that’s key actually, is to allow yourself to have these moments of meltdown, the half an hour, hour that you need, and pull yourself back through it.

NS: Absolutely. And they’re not pleasant for my husband Peter! [laughs] But he’s great, he’s always very supportive.

DC: How important do you think it is for our mental health to stay strong at this time and, with that, how is yours coping, and do you use any techniques to help you get through this?

NS: I suppose for me personally it goes back to the previous question. It’s about always remembering that – and I know people struggle with the notion that politicians are human – but we’re human beings, and so you know, trying to remind myself that there are aspects of this that are not normal, that are much bigger than anything I’ve dealt with before, so remembering that I have to take time just to deal with that. I try to talk to my mum and my sister every day. Obviously [husband] Peter’s great because I can offload to him and deal with some of the emotional side of it. Usually in the kind-of normal stresses and strains of my working life - which are not inconsiderable in normal times - I love reading novels and that’s how I normally try and switch off before I go to sleep but I’m finding that quite difficult at the moment. I find that I’m not able to concentrate as much as I usually can. But I think for everybody it is so important not to forget about our mental health.

READ MORE: Scottish study to assess mental health impacts of coronavirus


JR: What is that new normal that you think you can see Scotland living in in say six months’ time, a year’s time?

NS: Well, it’s hard to be absolutely definitive about this right now. Tomorrow we’ll set out some of the principals that are guiding our decision-making. So firstly, before we can start to ease anything right now we need much more evidence that this virus is under control, but it’s never going to be eradicated, so the danger is as we start to ease things, it runs out of control again, so it’s always going to be a careful balance. And as we ease things, let people go out a bit more, maybe let some businesses start to open up again, we’re going to have to continue to do things like keep a safe social distance.

So for example – and don’t read into this that these are firm decisions - but if a business can open up again, it may only be if they can still manage to keep their workforce two metres apart. Even schools, we talk about schools being closed and then open again, it might not be that binary. We might have kids going back to school for certain days a week, we may have to have, you know, children in a classroom so that we can have social distancing. These are all the things that we have to think through. We may still ask people to not mix as much with other households as they will have done previously. Big events I don’t think are going to be possible for quite some time to come. So these are the kind of things.

Coupled with that, if we can get the virus to much lower levels than it’s at just now, we then start much more comprehensively – if somebody has symptoms, you test them, you make sure you trace all the people they’ve been in contact with, isolate them so we’re cutting off the routes of transmission. So that’s the kind of things that we’re going to have to do.

You know, science hopefully will get us out the other end of this at some point – there’s lots of work going on just now to try to develop treatments that can help with symptoms and obviously ultimately a vaccine but we can’t rely on any of that being definitely in place on any fixed timescale right now, because that kind of stuff takes a while.

READ MORE: Covid-19: Scottish schools unlikely to reopen before summer break


DC: One of the side issues that’s happened is how we keep ourselves groomed and looking in any way half decent. Now, I’ve attempted the home haircut…

JR: He has [laughs]…

NS: Has it worked?

DC: Well, no comment but I know… [laughs] But I know that yourself, First Minister, you have gone down that road. I’ve noticed that you didn’t allow your husband anywhere near it, so what happened there, why did he not have a go [cutting your hair]?

NS: Because he would have made a mess of it. Or rather a bigger mess than I managed to make on my own. It wasn’t so much for me the cutting, it was, you know, woman of a certain age, it was the colour that was more pressing. So my usual hairdresser, a wonderful, wonderful woman called Julie McGuire, agreed, she sent me the stuff I needed and we did a FaceTime session where she literally step by step took me through colouring my own hair and then cutting it a little bit, thinning it out more than cutting it, so it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it’s not…

JR: I think you’ve done a grand job!

NS: Oh well, thank you.

JR: It looks great.

NS: It’s not something I would like to do any more than I absolutely have to, but Julie was brilliant.

JR: You’re not looking for a new profession?

NS: I’m definitely not looking for a new profession, the sooner I can get back to Julie doing it properly, the better. There was one kind-of disaster about it. Julie had sent me everything I needed, the colour, the brush, the scissors (which was very dangerous), and she wisely and correctly sent me the gloves to put on before I got my hands into the hair dye. I forgot to put the gloves on so for most of last week my hand was completely black from hair dye. But it’s faded now.


JR: There has been some incredible examples of community spirit, are there any specific moments that have made you very proud of Scotland?

NS: Oh so many. I mean this is a really grim, horrible situation but out of that’s coming so much inspiration and it’s really hard to single things out. You know the, we launched the ‘Scotland Cares’ campaign asking for people to volunteer and within hours of doing that we’d had thousands, tens of thousands of people doing it.

I’ve visited the NHS Louisa Jordan, the new hospital, a week or so ago, complying with all social distancing when I did it, but seeing that, the construction, I’ve never seen a happier group of construction workers, people knowing that they were doing something that mattered and people going the extra mile. The place was full of, you know, things that companies had donated, for staff and people involved there, and in every single community right now there will be people looking out for others.

I’m sure there’s people looking out for neighbours they’ve never spoken to before. So, big and small, I think we’re really demonstrating what it means to be a community and I’m a real believer, I don’t think this will happen automatically because we all tend to have short memories once a crisis is over, but if we really make sure not to forget this, then all of these points I keep talking about, you know, the importance of love, kindness, solidarity, actually they can be good things come out of this if we’re determined to hold onto some of that and I really hope we do.

READ MORE: NHS Louisa Jordan: All about the First World War nurse


DC: Do you know what I love that’s heartening, and I’m sure you agree with this First Minster, the Clap for Carers.

NS: Yeah.

DC: Every Thursday night we celebrate it here on Heart at 8 o’clock, I know you’ve got your sister and your sister-in-law working in the health service, how important is that, that we recognize everyone working in the frontline?

NS: So important. You know, it’s important at all times. You know, people in the health service, the care sector, you know they, every single day, not just in times of crisis, they do extraordinary stuff to keep the rest of us safe but right now it is so much more difficult, they are, they’re feeling anxious. I know many of them will be worried about what happens to their families if they get the virus and everything so we just owe so much to them and that Thursday night clap, I think has brought communities together, it’s actually, you were asking me about moments I felt emotional, I feel really emotional every Thursday night when we do that. But health and care workers are really important but I think it’s also really important that we don’t forget other essential workers, those that are keeping food on the table, keeping the lights on, our police, our prison staff and prison officers. You know, people just doing, what in normal times are their normal jobs but at this time it’s just extraordinary because it’s allowing us, albeit in very changed circumstances, to keep going as a country so I’m just so overwhelmed with gratitude to every one of them.

JR: Yeah it is so amazing to see everyone coming out clapping, pots and pans, bagpipes everything, so much noise is being made.

NS: Some of the bagpipes are better than others, I’ve heard some really skilled bagpipe players but my goodness I’ve heard, I’ve heard one or two that maybe need a bit of practice!

DC: [laughs]

JR: Yeah the effort’s there, but it’s the skill lacking…

NS: It’s the thought that counts.


JR: Obviously no one could have predicted the Covid-19 pandemic in its current form but there were predictions that there was a pandemic coming. Do you think we were prepared enough as a country, with things like the NHS, its funding, with PPE? Were we ready for this?

NS: So in broad terms, yes, but I think any leader who sits here and says – when they get to the point where they can look back – there’s not things they would do differently would not be honest with you. I remember actually - going back, what, to 2007 – when I was first in Government, I was the Health Secretary at the time. One of the first briefings I got as Health Secretary was ‘there’s going to be a pandemic at some point - we don’t know when it’ll be but we’re overdue it and it will happen’. And then a couple of years later, of course, we had swine flu which I dealt with then. At that point we all thought that was going to be this big thing and it was serious but it wasn’t anything like this. So there’s been a lot of focus over the years on pandemic planning – much of that has perhaps focussed very much on planning for a flu pandemic - although many of the principals are the same.

This is a new virus, we’ve not dealt with it before so we’re learning a lot as we go, there’s still an awful lot about this virus that we don’t know, so that brings its own challenges. But in terms of health service preparedness, our health service – if I’d been having this conversation with you just a few weeks ago, I’d have been really worried that by now our health service wouldn’t be coping, that our intensive care units would be overwhelmed, that clinicians would be having some really invidious choices to make. Now, touch wood, that hasn’t happened because of the planning and the way people are complying with all the restrictions just now. We’ve seen a new hospital in the SEC in Glasgow constructed and created in a period of two-three weeks.

PPE is always going to be a challenge - to make sure we’ve got it and we get it to where it needs to be – but that’s something we’re on literally every day. So there will be lessons to learn on this, undoubtedly there will be lessons to learn, and there will be mistakes that have been made because we’re all dealing with something unprecedented, but by and large I think the country as a whole has responded well.


JR: For a lot of people it’s quite bleak, there’s a lot of people staying in and feeling frustrated, financially scared. Is there light at the end of the tunnel for them?

NS: Of course there is. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. I suppose one of the most difficult things that I’m finding at the moment - and trying hard to get this balance right - is of course giving people hope about the light at the end of the tunnel but not giving people false expectation about when we might get back to normal.

Firstly, there is hope right now. The figures that we’re publishing every day - it’s hard to find this hope when we’re still announcing lots of people having died – but every day, for the last week or so, the figures I’ve been announcing every day for people in intensive care have been reducing. The number of people being admitted to hospital – it’s fluctuating still a bit on a daily basis – but the trend is downwards in that. Now what does that say? If fewer people are going into hospital and fewer people are going into intensive care, that actually means fewer people are getting this virus.

So everything we’re doing just now is working but progress is fragile and we need to keep at it because it very quickly could go into reverse.

But the second thing that is difficult – and you’re going to hear me talking more about this in the days ahead – when we do start to get back to normal, because we need to restore some kind of normality as soon as we can - the lockdown has its own consequences, we’ve touched on some of them already. We’re not going to quickly go back to normal as we know it. We’re going to have to live with this virus for quite a while, probably until there’s a vaccine developed for it. That will mean that even as we lift some of these more restrictive measures – things like social distancing, limiting the number of people we’re coming into contact with – that kind of thing is going to be with us for quite some time to come, so it’s a new normal that we’re going to have to get used to over the weeks to come.


NS: Something I find myself wondering on occasion when I’ve got a moment is ‘how will this generation of kids for example look back on this period, will it be the big defining thing of their lives?’ in the way, I guess, the Second World War generation look back on that, and it’s probably too early to say. I don’t think there’s any doubt this is one of these things that people will be talking about in 100 years, 200 years’ time.

I suppose what I would encourage people to do – and before I do, because I know how hard this is for myself, and I don’t underestimate how difficult this is for people who are stuck in the house with kids and not able to get out, this is really, really tough right now – but I suppose we should all try as hard as we can to hold on to the good things. People are maybe getting to spend more time with their kids, they’re getting to spend more time with your immediate family because you’re all stuck at home together, and it’s probably driving you potty but try and hold on to the positives. And that community spirit, and the opportunity as we come out of this – as we will, because we will get through it – to reimagine what society can look like and build something better than what we had going into this.

JR: Yeah, and I suppose it’s a big global issue, we’re all going through this together.

NS: Absolutely. We are all in it together, which is true. It’s equally true that not everybody’s experiences are the same.

There is a world of difference between living in a big house with a garden right now and living in a flat where you’ve got three kids, you’re over-crowded and you don’t have a garden and there’s a number of examples like that.

So we’ve got to understand that not everybody’s having the same experience. But it is something we’re all living through at the same time, not just here in Scotland or the UK but globally, and it is an opportunity to remind ourselves – we’ve all got used to living very consumer-driven lives at 100 miles, 1000 miles an hour, you know, Twitter, Facebook, everything going so fast … There is an opportunity here to take, well, we’ve been forced to take a step back a little bit and just remind ourselves what really matters in life. Your health matters, your family matters, your friends matter, your community matters. These are the things that are really, really important and this has been a brutal reminder – and not one we would have chosen – but never-the-less it does give us the opportunity to reassess and recalibrate how we live our lives.


JR: Is there one final message of hope you can give the people that are listening to us here on Heart?

NS: Well, firstly thank you so much, we are seeing progress now and we see it every day and it’s only because of what you’re all doing and the tough things that you’re all doing, so from the bottom of my heart, thank you and we will get through this. We’ll get through this together, we will get through this with as much collective endeavour as possible, there’ll be some tough times ahead we might never go back to exactly how life was before, but we will get through it and in perhaps some ways we’ll get through it and be better as individuals and as a society than we were before so stick with it and know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

DC: A beautiful note to end on, a message of hope. Thank you very much First Minster Nicola Sturgeon for joining us today here on Heart.

NS: Thank you both.

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