THE crisis we’re living through is more than a crisis, it’s a spotlight, and in its glare is the selfishness of certain companies, and the selflessness of certain individuals, and the pillars and nets of society that need to be repaired and strengthened. The light is also shining on the country’s leaders. Now, at last, we can see what they’re really like.

Have they passed the test? Yes and no. Before he went into hospital, Boris Johnson’s tone was a bit too chummy and Bunterish when we needed gravitas and firmness. As for his deputy Dominic Raab, he has the opposite problem: he’s stiff and strange, like a robot reading from a book called How To Be Human. His words of reassurance are likely to leave us unsettled, his calls for calm more panicky.

Nicola Sturgeon on the other hand has got it right. From the moment the crisis broke, her tone and language has been clear, compassionate, firm, accessible and inclusive, and that last word – inclusive – is particularly important. Before the virus spread, the First Minister was still talking about holding another independence referendum this year, even though no one, including I suspect her, believed it any more. To her credit, and probably her relief, she called the whole thing off.

The compassionate language used by the First Minister has also been well-judged and not just her compassion for the ordinary men and women who are falling ill. When the PM first got sick, there were a few people who seemed to think the illness was funny – a once-famous Scottish pop singer also suggested Mr Johnson’s cough wasn’t real, which even by the standards of the independence debate, was pretty nasty stuff.

By contrast, Ms Sturgeon got the tone spot on. She was sending the PM every good wish, she said, and added that everyone in Scotland was willing him to get better. Not only was it the right thing to say in the circumstances, it was a welcome change from her graceless and grumpy behaviour on the steps of Bute House when the PM visited Scotland last summer. Perhaps the FM would do things differently now.

There have been some blips in her performance – why, for instance, does she find it so hard to sack people like the Chief Medical Officer when they deserve to be sacked? But on the whole her ability to speak like us, sound like us, and behave like us, and get the tone right has been impressive and I suspect even most unionists would acknowledge that. Having clapped for the NHS, many of them might even join in a Clap for Nicola; there’d be good reasons to organise one.

There must also be a hope that the change we’ve seen in the First Minister’s tone and behaviour – and it is a change – could be a model for the future. The last six years of the independence debate have been exhausting, like being trapped in a pub where a fight is about to break out, or already has, and the First Minister’s approach has encouraged it. Everything has been about confrontation, enmity and grudge.

The coronavirus has changed that – in public at least. The governments of the UK appear to be working together rather than against each other. There is apparent goodwill in the face of danger and it has helped to place an emphasis not on the differences between people in the UK but on the similarities. In the words of Ms Sturgeon herself, in times like this, the issues that divide us seem less important.

The question is: will we be able to carry some of that over into the aftermath of the virus? There is no reason why the devolution we have in the UK can’t work well – the Scottish Government has more extensive powers than most other devolved governments in the world – but like any devolved system it requires goodwill and cooperation to be effective. If you constantly agitate, the system won’t work as well; if you constantly rock the boat, we’ll all feel seasick.

I hope that this will be one of the lessons of the coronavirus crisis for politicians. Yes, there’s a good chance we will go back to how things were, but then again, once we’ve all come through this with the same vulnerable, weak, human bodies, can we really go back to talking only about our differences? Some of the change that coronavirus has made to our behaviour, from the First Minister down, will be permanent and some of it won’t. But perhaps some of it will get into the veins and the bloodstream of our political system and make it better than it has been. Maybe, in time, we will all feel a little bit better.

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