WE should be wary of comparing the crisis of war with the crisis of coronavirus, but the 75th anniversary of VE Day is a reminder of what a national emergency can do to a leader. It can reveal their weaknesses and end their career, or it can highlight the qualities and skills that are needed in a time of trouble.

So how are we to judge Nicola Sturgeon? Her response to coronavirus has sometimes felt personal – when she talked about the crisis in care homes for example and was visibly upset. The First Minister has mostly managed to strike the right tone from the beginning when she said the virus was a reminder that in a crisis, the issues that divide us are no longer quite so important.

Her briefing this week, following leaks to the media by the UK government on plans to be announced by Boris Johnson tomorrow on easing lockdown, was an impressive performance. Ms Sturgeon said she was open to relaxing some rules on exercising outdoors, but warned it could be catastrophic to drop the “stay at home” message. The firm tone was well judged given the mooted divergence on the current pan-UK strategy; it was not an exaggeration, said Ms Sturgeon, that the decisions taken now were a matter of life and death.

A precipitate exit from lockdown risks triggering a rise in cases. As the FM said: extreme caution is required.

Ms Sturgeon’s refusal to openly criticise the PM or the UK Government even though she had not been briefed on the plans they leaked to the media was to her credit. Some have accused her of trying to draw differences between Edinburgh and London for political purposes, but in fact the whole of the UK went into lockdown together and, by and large, the governments have worked in tandem. This is no time for a constitutional bun-fight.

In urging caution over lockdown, Ms Sturgeon has also proved herself politically astute. Over the last few days, we have seen a return of some of the PM’s bullish enthusiasm – some of the lockdown measures could start to be lifted from Monday, he said. Hawkish Tories are also suggesting a quick easing of restrictions.

In urging caution, Ms Sturgeon has made any rush towards an ease of lockdown much more difficult; she has also emphasised how poorly the UK Government is handling this latest stage of the information campaign. The leaks that suggested we might soon be allowed to go to the park or the beach to sunbathe or have a picnic betrayed a disgraceful lack of discipline within the UK Government. Unlike the “stay at home” message, the leaks are also likely to cause confusion among the public.

It is significant that, after Ms Sturgeon’s briefing, the UK Government started to dial down on the rhetoric. Hopefully, they understand that pushing a policy without appearing to properly consult the devolved administrations shows a lack of respect for devolution.

A spokesperson for the PM also reiterated that he was committed to a UK-wide approach, although both the PM and the FM have said it is possible the four nations may go different ways if they are at different stages.

Such a multi-speed approach could be entirely logical. Coronavirus can behave differently in different countries and can vary within countries, which means there could be good reasons for differences in the response across the UK. What it must not mean, though, is that we start to confuse the message on coronavirus. If we are all in this together, we all need clear, careful and consistent advice.

Why we remember

On May 8th, 1945, people across Britain celebrated VE Day communally. Seventy-five years on, because of coronavirus, we are forced to mark the anniversary in a different way. But we can still remember. Some people worry about vainglory, but really it’s about stopping to think about the extraordinary endurance of the men and women who belonged to the war generation. The ones who were killed. The ones who became widows and widowers and orphans. The ones who thought it would never end. Seventy-five years ago, they celebrated the end of it all but they also mourned. We can do the same.