BEYOND doubt, Nicola Sturgeon is the TV star of the coronavirus crisis. Now we have arrived at autumn, we can look back to the spring and state that without fail she has outdone every one of her rivals, regardless of their sex, age, experience or allegiance.

Day after day, she has stood up in front of the cameras at her press conferences, taking every question just as it comes from friend or foe, and has satisfied us all with her straight talk. What’s more, her answers have been convincing because she does not pretend about things she doesn’t know, while never holding back on what she does know. It therefore comes across as the truth, not only to the questioners in front of her but also to a passive audience right round the UK.

There is no special reason for English viewers to love Nicola, because her policies mean that in the end she wants to take their nation down a peg or two. When they respond with confidence to what she has to say, they often specify the contrast with their own Government’s spokesmen, so feeble, so bumbling, so implausible, so dubious.

Individually, these people can be as bad as their loose and laboured leader Boris Johnson, a man who finds it hard to count to seven when he has to define exactly how many of his citizens may gather together at a single time and place. Why listen to people like him?

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No wonder, then, that some politicians of other persuasions have been calling on the BBC to disallow the performances of Nicola when she shows herself to be beyond doubt one of the leading public communicators of our age. And how loathsome of our official public broadcaster to show itself ready to kowtow to these pathetic demands! Given the abysmal level of most politicians who sprawl over the benches at Westminster, I’d say it was a constitutional right for the rest of us to listen to somebody who is determined to tell us the truth as she understands it and to advise us on the consequences for our own behaviour. Even if we don’t believe it, or don’t want to believe it, it is compelling stuff.

I can remember when Nicola was a slight lassie just starting out on her political career, still diffidently feeling the strain of edging her way forward in the far from friendly public environment of those days. She had her disappointments but she carried on, and the voters feel the benefit of that today. She warns us we may not like what we are about to hear from her, but she never lacks the courage to give it to us (again, compare Boris!).

There would be enough to admire here even in normal times. Abnormal times have inspired her to surpass herself, to raise her game from the merely political level to something approaching the statesmanlike. I’m still not sure if this is enough to win her ultimate public goal for Scotland. But elements of it will be a necessary preliminary to independence on any terms and in any conditions.

Yet the possibility of pitfalls cannot be ignored either. It is all very well to wait on the most effective cure for coronavirus and to be resolute in applying it. The problem, however, is that we may still be far away from any effective cure for coronavirus.

It’s a strange thing this, but the net result for Scotland after Nicola’s regular display of her talents is that our rate of infection is among the worst in the world, despite the vigour of our official action.

While most governments in the world have followed one another in a process of trial-and-error for the fight against coronavirus, perhaps the Scottish Government has been the slickest. The programme was set out by Sturgeon herself at Holyrood: “We have made it clear that fairness, dignity, equality and human rights are key principles that have to underpin our response at all stages. The harms that are caused by the pandemic are, to a greater or lesser extent, being felt by everybody, but they are not being felt equally, and how we respond has to take account of that inequality.”

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FAIRNESS, dignity, equality and human rights are certainly great assets of our western societies, or of most of them anyway. But can they actually cure coronavirus?

If the money to be spent on realising these assets, that is, on saving their beneficiaries from an untimely death, does not have the desired effect, then surely we are entitled to consider whether there might not also be a preferable alternative?

With a shortage of remedies, would we not be better dosing a one-year-old baby with what we have got than a doddering old pensioner? This is not just a quibble. Medical doctors have long followed the practice of the triage, first treating those who will recover first, then those needing a longer cure and finally leaving the hopeless cases to their deaths. Whatever else this may be, it does not end up as the practice of equality. We must take care that equality does not end up as moral naivety. This is common enough in Scottish political thinking, affecting all parties from the Greens to the Tories. Alternative experience, say of socialist enterprise, is almost entirely lacking, although that is the fault of socialists.

The nearest the Scottish Government comes to it is to trust in the conservative sort of banker who is just at home in the public sector – or, in one case, in Buccleuch Estates. It is easy to bandy about a term so abstract as equality. Somewhat harder is the generation out if it of practical political and economic programmes.

I would be the first to admit that present-day Scotland allows a lot of inequality. Some of it may be the result of injustice or misfortune, and in that sense undeserved by its victims. Equally, it may be the fault of the victims themselves.

They might have embarked on some enterprise of their own but come a cropper. The product might not have satisfied its intended customers, or else the location and abilities of the workforce might have been misconceived, or the cost structure might have been wrong.

In the worst cases the new firm may fold, and then people working in it may suffer poverty as their jobs and prospects vanish. In other words, inequality in our society grows. Is it then the task of government to reverse the unfortunate outcome and keep everybody in a job? In that case we are abandoning the capitalist system, which works through the survival of the fittest.

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Nicola picks out four “key principles” of her own, but there are others no less integral to our economy that give it a different look. For example, clever people tend to earn more than stupid people. Hard-working people tend to earn more than idle people. Those who have taken the trouble to acquire professional experience and qualifications tend to earn more than those who have not.

People who have laboured for a long time at a particular job tend to earn more than those who have just been taken on. It is more exciting to be a world-class innovator but not always so lucrative. I find these differences to be quite rational, and I doubt if they should really be regarded as examples of inequality.

They merely reflect human difference and human diversity – precisely the great advantages of capitalism.