Political leadership is essentially a confidence trick. It is the art of being in charge, of calling the shots and stopping the buck – or at least appearing to. Nicola Sturgeon has confidence coming out of her ears. Her performance this week, as throughout the pandemic, was exemplary.

She was cool, clear, direct, a tad morally unctuous, but conveying an aura of competence that the UK leader, Boris Johnson, has lacked in his halting and bumbling speeches and parliamentary outings. She is an impressive leader. And not just in her delivery.

Ms Sturgeon’s political handling of this crisis has also been exemplary. She has followed essentially the same strategy as the UK Government, made all the same mistakes and then some, but has somehow managed to devolve responsibility for those mistakes to Westminster.

READ MORE: Opinion: Iain Macwhirter: No country for old men. The bitter harvest in Scotland’s care homes

Last week, she unveiled her four-step programme for returning to normality which is, in all major respects, the same as the UK one. But by delaying it a fortnight, while accusing Boris Johnson of playing “Russian roulette with people’s lives” she has made it sound as if she’s protected Scots from a government of Bolsanaro-emulating herd immunity fanatics.

There is not a great deal of evidence for this. Nicola Sturgeon said a fortnight ago that it was not safe to follow the UK path because the “all-important” R number in Scotland was too high at between 0.7 and 1.0. Yet last week, as she announced her new regime, the R number was still between 0.7 and 1.0.

She insists that the number of infections is down, which is true. But the rate of spread of the virus, which R measures, is not crucially dependent on the number of cases. The risk of the pandemic getting loose again has changed very little.

But people think it has, and in politics, that is all that really matters. “#ThankYouNicola” was trending on social media. The SNP is riding ever higher in popularity. The FM’s treatment by opposition leaders in the chamber sounded almost respectful.

There has been an assumption, shared by most of the Scottish media, that Nicola Sturgeon is showing the way, not following a few steps behind. Her government commands a degree of respect that Westminster lacks. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, Mr Swinney,” said a reverential Good Morning Scotland presenter the day after the route map was unveiled.

Yet, in that very interview, the Deputy First Minister all but admitted that the government’s aim of 2,000 contact tracers by next week was falling way short. Only 600 have been signed up, but Swinney assured us that this would be quite enough. Oh yes.

On testing, the Scottish Government’s record is poor any way you look at it. Not only in contact tracing which is well behind England, where 24,000 tracers have been recruited, but also in the headline number of tests.

The UK was testing 120,000 a day last week and is on course for 200,000 a day. In Scotland only 2,300 are being tested, according to the Scottish Parliament Information Service. On a per-capita basis it should be almost ten times that.

Now, the purpose of all this testing is admittedly unclear, north and south of the Border. The clinical advisers in Scotland have always been distinctly cool on community testing, at least in the current phase. The former CMO, Dr Catherine Catherwood, famously called it a “distraction”.

However, everyone agrees now that one of the major failings of the UK’s response to the pandemic was a lack of preparedness and a failure to install the architecture of TTI: test, track and isolate. Progress in Scotland can only be described as glacial.

READ MORE: Opinion: Iain Macwhirter: It's easy to scare people into staying home; harder to persuade them to come out again

Then there is the avoidable tragedy in Scotland’s care homes, which I wrote about last week. This was the policy, hotly denied, that old people were cleared out of acute hospitals without proper testing and sent often to care homes where the virus spread rapidly.

Last week, the Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, finally came clean about the elderly clearance, and said nearly 1,000 had been discharged in March alone. She had previously said only 300 had been so decanted.

This is a serious error and calls into question the competence of the minister and the health service bureaucrats upon whom she relies. It comes on top of the inexplicable failure to inform the public about the major Covid outbreak in February at a Nike conference in Edinburgh.

There is every sign of a massive buck-passing operation between the NHS Scotland, Public Health Scotland, the Chief Medical Officer, the Care Inspectorate and the private care homes, all trying to blame each other for the care home scandal.

Nicola Sturgeon admitted last week that there had been a panic reaction to the forecast of 250,000 Covid deaths made in mid-March by the disgraced Imperial College epidemiologist, Professor Neil Ferguson. She said hospitals feared they were about to be “filled up with coronavirus cases” and so discharged as many old patients as possible into care. In the event, the wards have lain empty as old people died.

Nearly half of all Covid deaths in Scotland have been in care homes. The misery this policy has inflicted on Scotland’s senior citizens, dying in cruel isolation, is unimaginable.

Lessons will be learned etc. However, no-one seems to regard these as lessons particularly for the First Minister. Similarly, criticism of confusions in her route map to normality go right over her head.

Garden centres and bowling greens can open, but people can’t use the toilets, which make it rather pointless. The “blended” solution to teaching means parents will have to remain at home even after schools go back in August. The tourism and hospitality industry is in despair, forecasting losses of up to 100,000 jobs.

But Nicola Sturgeon is safe and socially distanced from blame. She has the shield of confidence around her, burnished by the flattering attentions of legions SNP supporters, who dominate social media.

It has now become clear that the PM’s closest adviser, Dominic Cummings, had been bending the lockdown rules to travel Durham, with the full sanction of Boris Johnson.

The UK media seems mainly interested in using Scotland as a stick to beat the Prime Minister. The Sky presenter, Kay Burley, urged UK political leaders last week to “take a leaf out of Nicola Sturgeon’s book”.

It is also, of course, because Boris Johnson’s handling of the crisis has been confused and erratic. The messaging about “Stay Alert” was vague, the rules about travel incomprehensible, the attempt to reopen the schools cack-handed.

READ MORE: Iain Macwhirter: Failures over testing means no end to coronavirus lockdown in Scotland

The UK Government has oscillated between promises of wonder apps and “game-changing” breakthroughs, like antibody tests, and panicky pronouncements that have led to invasive crackdowns by the police. The decision to introduce draconian 14-day quarantine for travellers may have made sense two or three months ago, but seems pointless now.

Westminster’s approach has been an object lesson in poor leadership, which will be examined by students of governance for many years. Scotland’s handling of the actual medical emergency may not have been much better, but Nicola Sturgeon has cornered the market on that all-important asset: public trust.