NOW that the coronavirus crisis is past its peak – or so they tell us – some more lasting effects start to press themselves on our attention too.

It was, from the outset, a markedly political affair, as pandemics go. The 21st century is already remarkable for the number of vague but alarming avian flus that have infected it. This was one reason why Red China at first sought to conceal the latest outbreak, till the ferocity of the contagion brushed aside the feeble official censorship.

I suppose it was, for Beijing, an offensive idea that socialism might generate uncontrollable diseases. Indeed some of my own readers believe such things are caused by capitalism. They need to note how libertarian Hong Kong has had only seven deaths from coronavirus while its place of origin, communist Wuhan, has had more than 40,000.

At the same time it is true, of course, that this is not a puzzle we would have had to probe unless the disease had spread so rapidly to the West along familiar routes for trade and tourism, with paradoxical effects in many places, including our own islands.

As here we embark on our descent from the peak of the crisis, it seems clear Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government are emerging from it in far better fettle than Boris Johnston and the UK Government.

Blathering Boris would certainly be in contention for a prize to reward the worst political performance of the crisis. Not only did he manage to catch coronavirus himself and nearly die of it, alone among the world’s political leaders.

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The consequent exertions to find a substitute for himself at the heart of government only went to show the dearth of talent round him. Above all, he failed to progress the agenda that got him elected less than eight months ago, of launching the UK into the freedom of its post-European future.

Since UK voters today have access to many television channels, not just the sycophantic BBC, it has been embarrassingly easy to make damning comparisons between Boris and Nicola, seeing that both took to the airwaves to keep the public informed. While he burbled incoherently, or even slithered into contradiction, she has remained cool, calm and collected.

English viewers, too, have decided she comes across as the more coherent and convincing in her presentations. While his ratings have plummeted, hers have soared, both at home and south of the Border. There, some people regret she is not eligible to move into Number 10 Downing Street instead of him.

So, altogether, he’s had a bad crisis and she’s had a good one. Yet the strange thing is they lead neighbouring countries that, more than almost all others in Europe, have seen their coronavirus infection rates spiral.

It’s true Scotland has done somewhat better than England. At the peak of the pandemic, both nations recorded a similar number of new coronavirus cases every day, with England hovering round 73 compared to Scotland’s 63. But, since June, Scotland’s rate of new cases has fallen below two per million of population, while England’s is yet to drop below seven per million of population. Nothing is guaranteed, however, and in Scotland too we may still suffer setbacks, as we are in Lanarkshire this very week.

Still, in general Scotland has passed the worst of the crisis while, south of the Border, they have yet to get to the same stage. That was why Nicola came out with the apparently shocking utterance that she would “not shy away” from imposing quarantines on visitors from England. All the same, both countries remain far worse affected by the pandemic than our European neighbours (Ireland, Denmark, Norway) which are not otherwise notably unhealthier or worse provided for than we are.

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I STARTED off saying this was above all a political pandemic, interwoven with the physical health of the nation, with its economic performance and with its governmental prospects.

For Boris and Britishness that is all too obvious. He entered 2020 on the back of a decisive electoral victory ready to lead a secure administration free to do what it wanted for five years.

Halfway through the first of those five years, confusion reigns. Everywhere, programmes of potentially radical reform are bogged down while the Government is forced to face the realities of the pandemic. Its innovative thinkers are discredited amid the economic emergency that has erupted amid crashing production and soaring unemployment.

Boris seemed set to rule unchallenged through those five years. Now we wonder whether he will get to the end of his first year. As for Nicola, we can argue the coronavirus crisis will have made her more secure for the months leading up to the Scottish election in 2021.

The pandemic has in several ways brought out the best in her. It’s a health problem, and of all the jobs she has ever had, I get the impression she liked running the Scottish NHS the best. It is non-partisan in its ethos and brings out the nicer side in both practitioners and patients. And while we seek inspiration in things that can unite us, it is all the easier to let our minds drift away from the things that divide us.

In other words, a First Minister who can defeat coronavirus will tend to be more popular than one who cannot yet win independence.

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Yet an aspect that worries me in this scenario is how we get out of it. Sooner or later, the virus will retreat more decisively, perhaps even be eradicated by an effective vaccine.

If we finally get the job done, the Scottish Government will laud its own consistent approach amid many frustrations. It will be able to trumpet to politicians and public alike how it owes its achievement to a system of rather heavy-handed administration that otherwise we have only seen in wartime.

Clearly, this system has been to the liking of the SNP, and of the First Minister in particular, together with the like-minded acolytes she prefers to gather round her.

They have been working to a principle that Nicola defined as her own in a speech a year ago: “I think unregulated capitalism is a force for bad and I think we need much more regulation, and I am not opposed to more state ownership where that is appropriate.”

In other words, coronavirus has given the First Minister pretty much the sort of closely controlled economy she has always wanted. Once the pandemic passes, I would expect her to continue trying to run the country by the same methods.

The trouble is these methods do not produce very strong growth rates, and that is exactly what we will need after a period when national output will have plunged to an extent otherwise unknown in modern history.

I cannot imagine a weak growth rate will make Scots eager for independence either.