WHEN politicians start priding themselves on their transparency, beware.

In recent weeks, ministers north and south have been falling over themselves to embrace their fallibility. Mistakes will be made in the handling of the coronavirus, they say. We’re learning on the job. But trust us, we’re doing our best.

Nicola Sturgeon, for example, told Holyrood on Wednesday: “I said that I would make mistakes and that the Government would make mistakes, and I am sure that is the case.

“We are dealing with an unprecedented situation.”

I’m sure she and counterparts are doing their best as they wrestle with the unknown, and footling administrative bungles are being conceded along the way.

But when it comes to the big stuff that could have cost lives, it’s back to the usual spikey defensiveness.

The UK Government missing its 100,000 tests a day target? Not a mistake, ministers cry every 5pm. You lot don’t understand success.

The Scottish Government missing its 10,000 tests a day target? Not a blunder either, comes the response. It’s all going pretty well, considering.

Just don’t mention it would take almost two years to test everyone in Scotland and the UK at this rate.

As for Covid scything through care homes, it’s nothing to do with us, Guv.

Take Boris Johnson’s misleading bluster when cornered by Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs this week.

“It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home…will become infected,” the Labour leader quoted from the UK Government official advice in place up to March 12.

“Not true that the advice said that,” replied the PM, instantly grasping the political danger of such insouciance, if not grasping the facts.

But it was exactly what it said.

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The guidance is there on the UK Government website under a warning that it was withdrawn on March 13.

That’s more transparency than you get with the Scottish Government’s website, where withdrawn guidance has been vigorously deleted.

Like the official advice to care homes published on March 26 which gives a chilling clue as to why almost half the Covid-19 deaths in Scotland have occurred under care home roofs.

“It is not advised that residents [with Covid] in long term care are admitted to hospital for ongoing management but are managed within their current setting,” it told staff.

In other words, Scots homes were discouraged from sending Covid patients to a hospital, despite the fuller range of care on offer and the higher grade PPE there, plus the risk of sick residents acting as sources of infection to others in the home.

The latest version of this guidance, published yesterday, says a transfer to a hospital “should take place” after a clinical assessment that is in the best interest of the resident, in keeping with their choices, and where the care required cannot be done in the home.

The March 26 document also says new residents arriving from hospital “do not routinely need confirmation of a negative Covid test”. Now two negative results are mandatory.

You won’t find it easy to compare one version with the other, however, because the first has been all but scrubbed from the internet. It lingers on in a handful of web caches.

But asked on Wednesday if she thought early mistakes led to excess deaths and testing in homes had been a failure, Ms Sturgeon was emphatic. “No, I do not,” she told MSPs.

She then said the high mortality rate was “not caused by our handling the virus in care homes as other countries are; it is intrinsic to the difficult nature of the virus”. Intrinsic to the virus. Oh well then. That’s that.

The Scottish Government was also apparently blameless in its handling of our first big Covid outbreak, when 25 people, eight from Scotland, caught it at a Nike conference in Edinburgh’s Hilton Carlton in late February.

Ministers knew about it by March 3, when cases started appearing, but still let Scotland play France at Murrayfield five days later, and didn’t ban large gathering until March 16.

They said nothing about the Nike incident for two months, until a BBC documentary revealed it last week.

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Ms Sturgeon denies a cover-up, saying the first case was mentioned at the time in a press release. However, that merely referred to an infected person in Scotland who “had contact with a known positive case”, without saying they caught it in Scotland, far less a major outbreak in Edinburgh.

The First Minister says she accepted advice that patient confidentiality could have been compromised if she’d said more, but that was looking at the issue the wrong way around.

“The thing that wasn’t said was that there were a number of cases associated with one event,” she said. Well quite. That’s the problem.

Instead of minimising what it said, the government should have tried to maximise what it said within the bounds of confidentiality. The public deserved to be alerted.

Ms Sturgeon also says everyone who needed to be contact-traced was contact-traced. But that assumes a perfect system in which everyone remembered exactly who they met for 15 minutes or more over 48 hours. Publicising the outbreak would have helped identify people who would otherwise have been missed.

Quizzed by the media on Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon insisted she was satisfied at the time, and remains satisfied, that “all appropriate steps were taken”.

However her knowledge of what happened at the time seems hazy.

“I’m not even sure I knew what the venue was until it was reported in this programme,” she blurted out.

It’s hard to see how she could be happy all steps were taken without knowing basics like that. The venue was not some isolated country retreat. It was a very large hotel on one of the busiest streets in Scotland’s capital, a few yards from the Royal Mile. That information was surely relevant, and her lack of curiosity looks culpable.

This retreat from candour is especially worrying as we pivot to the next phase of the crisis, and the ginger easing of the lockdown. Ms Sturgeon must give an update by May 28.

When Mr Johnson replaced Stay at Home with Stay Alert in England, the First Minister and others complained it was vague and imprecise advice.

It was, next to Stay at Home. That was as definitive as it gets. The next phase will be vague and imprecise.

Even the Scottish Government’s latest framework paper on easing the lockdown says people will need to “remain vigilant” for symptoms of Covid in others, aka stay alert.

Asked for her superior alternative slogan last week, Ms Sturgeon tellingly failed to offer one.

The months ahead will be messy. As people go out more, the virus will go with them. The R number will flutter disconcertingly. Politicians will make more mistakes. The stressed-out ones in office will doubtless seethe about mouthy idlers in opposition.

But truth and transparency will serve everyone better than carping and sour denials. Instead of all this professed openness and honesty, the country will need the real thing.