A SUITABLY contrived narrative has begun to emerge to disparage the view that Nicola Sturgeon has provided a gold standard of leadership during the coronavirus health crisis. Suddenly it seems that to possess good leadership skills is not quite as important as we had all been led to believe.

Yet, everyone it seems wants to be a leader. And you can be too for £500 and a couple of days hugging the person to your right and telling delegates gathered in a semi-circle “something interesting about yourself”. The only problem with this, of course, is that if your career goal was to provide “paradigm strategies” and build “strategic partnerships” then there’s every likelihood that there won’t be many interesting things with which to entertain the rest of the suckers.

Nevertheless, everyone seems to agree that “good leadership”’ is the key to health, happiness, good governance and desirable outcomes. You might be an indolent and feckless banger in your personal life and be addicted to online porn but, hey … if you’ve mastered the art of passive aggression; are at your work-pod at 6am after cycling to the office and last to leave 14 hours later, then you’re halfway to the great KPMG and McKinsey paradigm paradise.

Unless you’re Nicola Sturgeon, of course. When it comes to Scotland’s First Minister, leadership is not quite all it’s cracked up to be. Hell, being a good leader is actually a tell-tale sign that you are really a functioning psychopath and an arch-manipulator who can’t even have an honest hairstyle.

Of course something had to be done to thwart the truth that Sturgeon is, in fact, quite good at this leadership malarkey: for who knows where it will end? Last week, while she enjoyed an approval rating of 80-plus, Boris Johnson was skulking at around minus-25. This would normally be quite a profound and telling snapshot.

After all, if your leadership approval rating actually soars during the most challenging of circumstances then that’s got to be something. If, meanwhile, your country thinks that you’re about as useful in a crisis as Homer Simpson, then perhaps you were never really cut out for this gig.

As always, though, I seem to be missing the bigger picture. There was me watching all the BBC archive documentaries about Winston Churchill and thinking that it was his indefinable gifts of leadership that steered us through our darkest hour. The belligerent old imperialist might have been permanently hovering near jaikiedom on the Ford/Hemingway bevvy-merchant scale and be a moody crank and a bad judge of character, but hey, he was a great leader who could squeeze every ounce of meaning out of a well-rehearsed phrase.

But no, good leadership is over-rated and Churchill just got lucky that the Americans and the Russians came in when they did and stopped all those inbred rockets and trumpets out of Sandhurst making a pure Jeremy Hunt of it. For, according to many in the Union-facing commentariat, leadership qualities can actually be a sign of weakness. Especially if you’re the First Minister of Scotland. It’s just a matter of perception, stupid.

This was Andrew McKie writing in our sister paper The Herald yesterday. McKie is an eloquent writer whose work I enjoy, but his column was intriguing. “Lots of us are clearly more influenced – as we are in every other area of life – by how much we warm to an individual, or more accurately, a projected image, than any rational calculation,” he said.

So there you go: when it comes to good leadership it’s all about smoke and mirrors and anyway, none of us is very rational when it comes to this sort of thing. Politicians of every stripe will tell you that you can’t fool the electorate. A complex matrix of opinions, prejudices and perceptions are fed into an individual’s mindset at election time. You won’t find any losing leader at an election claiming that the voters got it wrong. Capitalists stress how important “confidence” is to the free market. If customers feel “confident” about a company’s senior management then the future is set fair and everyone piles in to wet their beaks. Here, too, a widespread nexus of influences are brought to bear. Sometimes it’s mere instinct, or your gut.

RIGHT now, Britain’s gut is telling it that Nicola Sturgeon is someone they can trust and that Boris Johnson is not. Nor can this be dismissed as an irrational susceptibility to high oratory. It’s about the perception of honesty and the shared instinct we all possess that determines when we’re being fed bullshit. At election time, you expect a degree of bucolic ordure and might even vote for a person who specialises in it. But when you are faced with a widespread and profound mortal threat you are less inclined to be so indulgent.

At a time like this, people don’t mind when a politician admits to honest errors of judgment. From the outset, Nicola Sturgeon has not been slow to do this. Nor do the public appreciate political point-scoring and name-calling when lives are at stake. The First Minister has resisted this even as Boris Johnson made some juvenile jibes about his Scottish counterpart copying his briefing style on Monday.

We don’t like to be lied to either. Or at least, if we’re being fed porkies we like them at least to respect our intelligence. Dominic Cummings’s explanation for his multiple lockdown breaches on that fabled trip to Durham was a Hans Christian Andersen production from start to finish. Johnson’s refusal to remove him told even his most fervent supporters that he simply isn’t suited to leadership. He looks weak now and his cabinet of lickspittles appear rudderless.

Scotland’s infection rate is now three times less than England’s. Yesterday it was revealed that the ratio of positive to negative test results indicates it’s on the pandemic “safe side”, according to scientific research comparing it favourably with New Zealand’s success. On the same day, the First Minister confirmed no Covid-19 deaths had been reported for the second day running and just 15 people with confirmed or suspected cases were in intensive care. We’ll never know how much better it might have been if, as an independent country, we hadn’t had to be in lockstep with Boris Johnson in those first few crucial weeks.

It reminded me of a famous quote by a war-time leader – can’t remember his name – who said this following the defeat of Rommel at El Alamein: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

The British public knows what good leadership looks like and they know it’s about more than just great hair and good presentation skills.