In a poll conducted for BBC Scotland, before the Dominic Cummings saga surfaced, Nicola Sturgeon was rated as handling the coronavirus pandemic “fairly” or “very well” by 82% of respondents. Only 30% felt similarly about Boris Johnson. Taking various factors into account, the Ipsos Mori data showed the Holyrood government’s overall approval rating during the pandemic as +67, while Westminster was awarded -17.

The huge discrepancy in perception this reveals is “remarkable”, according to the psephologist Professor John Curtice, although since Devolution, he wrote, Scottish voters have tended to be more positive about Holyrood than Westminster. In short, when things go well here, our government is given credit, and when they go badly, London is blamed.

Given the present circumstances, I would hesitate to attribute the First Minister’s flying pass to political loyalty or national bias. Over the past couple of months, several friends and family, who would only vote SNP if there was a gun to their head – perhaps not even then – have expressed their admiration for Sturgeon’s management of the situation, and said how reassured they are to have her in charge.

This is not to say that she, or her cabinet and colleagues, are above reproach, nor that she can avoid an uncomfortable reckoning in the future. Scotland has been bedevilled by some of the same shortages, ineptitude and delays as England and Wales. As Sturgeon herself has admitted, with hindsight there will indubitably be things she would now do differently. When eventually a forensic analysis of the Scottish government’s response is undertaken, there will inevitably and rightly be criticisms and complaints. Many will be just, and some will be serious, such as the way in which care homes were initially mishandled and under-resourced.

What is not in doubt, however, is the First Minister’s conduct and demeanour. Sturgeon has shown herself to be good – you might even say exceptional – in a crisis. She has neither flapped nor been flustered. She has taken tough decisions swiftly and decisively, instead of dithering and delaying, like her southern counterpart. Her choices have been clearly explained, so people don’t mistake them for authoritarian dictats, but understand the information on which they are based.

It seems to me that her high approval rating is based as much on the quality of leadership she has shown as on the specifics and timing of the lockdown rules she imposed, and her timetable for lifting them. In the midst of alarm, and the potential for mass hysteria, she has remained a model of clarity and calm.

Sturgeon is not alone in her ability to inspire confidence. Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen put 124 measures in place in January that prevented any need for lockdown. The death tally is an astoundingly low seven. As the situation elsewhere emerges, it becomes clear how well prime minister Jacinda Ardern has orchestrated New Zealand’s response. She fulfilled her promise to “get ahead” of the virus, and the result is a total of 21 deaths, and an early loosening of restrictions. Germany, under Angela Merkel, has contained the disease well. With a population of 83 million, it has so far suffered fewer than 8500 deaths, going into lockdown sooner, and emerging faster, than the UK. But other countries run by women have also done relatively well, among them Denmark, Finland, Norway and Iceland.

Comparisons of the ways different countries have handled Covid 19 can be invidious. Some are more densely populated, as in the UK, others are more easily sealed off, such as New Zealand. Only some have universal health care. London is a global hub, whereas Scandinavia sees nothing like its daily influx. Yet such factors do not explain Taiwan’s or Germany’s resilience. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the calibre of premier has made a massive difference to outcomes, influencing a country’s willingness to abide by the new rules.

Can it be coincidence that several countries with women in charge are either managing to ward off disastrous levels of contagion or, as here, convincing voters that they are dealing with the disaster in the best possible manner?

Gender stereotyping is as out-dated as wood chip wallpaper. Even so, it’s tempting to speculate whether these figureheads have reacted faster and more emphatically to the threat posed by Covid 19 because, raised in cultures that still assume women are more nurturing, they were more attuned to people’s welfare? Whereas, by comparison, male politicians remained bullish and defiant too long? Or is it simply that they have been more willing to accept what scientists tell them, rather than argue with the experts whose advice runs counter to their plans?

While Johnson shilly-shallied, loathe to curb individuals’ liberty, and unwilling to damage the economy, Sturgeon took swifter action. Merkel and Ardern, for their part, were ruthless in closing all possible avenues of transmission as quickly as they could. For all their manifest differences, they share a shrewd sense of priorities.

So is trusting expert advice an essentially female quality? I very much doubt it. But setting aside party or egotistical concerns while they get on with the job might just be. Perhaps the impressive record of female leaders in this respect lies not in their gender but their innate capability. Among the crucial assets in their political armoury is the ability to assess a parlous situation quickly, and respond coolly and rationally in the face of panic.

In Sturgeon’s case, compared to Johnson she has been level-headed and consistent, the epitome of sang froid. Only once has she shown the strain, when answering an MSP who suggested she was unconcerned about the calamity in care homes. Other than that, she has been a beacon guiding people through the storm, not a buoy that bobs with every wave.

Bragging and bluffing, boostering and blustering is the default position of some male politicians, and it has served them well. Perhaps in time women will also learn to blag, boast and even bully their way to the top. Until that unhappy day, those in positions of power have more than earned their place. Stateswomen whose adept handling of this crisis transcends party and personal interest are merely demonstrating how they got there in the first place. Unlike some of those who believe themselves born to rule, they are genuine class acts.

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