‘PHRASES make history here ” said Sir John Maffey, the UK’s wartime representative in Dublin when advising Churchill not to take on De Valera in public debate.

Words are the currency of politics worldwide. They can have the highest value or be worth nothing. They can secure positive progress or sell it down the river. What they do, or attempt to do, for good and ill, is up to the individual politician.

The best example at present is our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The focus, thought, care and determination she is applying to national leadership in these most difficult and heartbreaking of times is truly remarkable.

Last week she not only brought forward major changes to regulations and guidance for every part of the country but on Tuesday she also led a full debate in Parliament about them and about how a weary but still endangered Scotland must react to the continuing Covid threat.

She spent three hours actively giving information, intervening, listening and, by her own admission, learning. Yet she had the commitment and the stamina to come back to the chamber two days later to answer, for an hour and 30 minutes, difficult and detailed questions that went to the heart of the current wide and deep suffering of so many who have lost loved ones in the pandemic.

Such scrutiny is essential. Some of it was undertaken by members with the sensitivity and care that it demanded though the aggressive, blame-culture politics indulged in by an insensitive few would have been better left at the chamber door.

All of it, however, was met by Nicola with careful thought, a determination to consider and react seriously and respectfully no matter the tone or content, and an almost painfully honest and willing acceptance of the personal responsibility that she carries for every decision, right or wrong, and the consequences which flow from every piece of advice she considers.

The opposite of taking such responsibility, indeed doing everything possible and much that is despicable in order to avoid the consequences of your actions, was alas also visible in Scotland last week. This is what is now called “gaslighting” and the effect of it is in itself a good example of how powerful and dangerous language can be.

Named after a play in the 1930s and two films in the 1940s, it is defined as “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgement”. In politics it has become the principal tool for Donald Trump and his administration as they attempt to undermine and then subvert the entire American system of governance.

The Johnson junta have copied that playbook, particularly in their way of dealing with the devolved administrations, and of course the few remaining Scottish Tory MPs are willing accomplices.

Yet this week a new low was reached by Andrew Bowie, who clung on to his West Aberdeen and Kincardine seat by fewer than 1000 votes last December, and who is always keen to be seen doing Westminster master’s bidding with enthusiasm, if usually without judgement.

That led to him tweeting on Thursday in support of a nonsensical gaslighting letter to me from Michael Gove about preparations for Brexit, that the Scottish Government had “failed to invite UK Govt officials to key Brexit preparedness meetings or share important papers and planning papers”. And he went on to assert that “this is no time for petty blame games. It’s time to work together for Scotland”.

The first point fails to understand what the system for liaison between the two governments is, but in fact our officials have shared everything they can.

Their problem is that much of essential importance has not been shared with them or Scottish Government ministers by the UK.

But the second point is even more disreputable. Bizarrely claiming that the disastrous effects of his party’s very British Brexit are the fault of the Scottish Government whilst hypocritically pretending to rise above blame politics, he then demands we all follow his supposedly high-minded lead and unite to confront an appalling problem which is actually being foisted on us against our explicit ballot box wishes by him and his Tory colleagues.

This is the zenith of gaslighting but the nadir of politics. It may now be the Tory political norm, but it must never become the Scottish one.

For that we should look to the words and the example of our First Minister.