I’M going to say it again: Nicola Sturgeon has had a good crisis. The tone and language is spot on, the voice is calm and reasonable (when it isn’t Janey Godley’s) and, to her credit, she’s kept constitutional politics out of it. And who wouldn’t prefer Nicola Sturgeon over Tory androids like Matt Hancock and Grant Schapps? Compared to them, she sounds clear, and compassionate, and human.

But the more the crisis goes on, the more likely it is that problems will occur. The law of political thermodynamics states that eventually entropy sets into every leader during a crisis, and so it is with Ms Sturgeon. Her recent talk about reimposing the lockdown, for instance, sounded bad-tempered and maternalistic and, worse, out of tune with what’s happening on the ground: people are starting to use their own judgments about risk.

The First Minister has also done something we’ve seen the SNP do before in a crisis. If you watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race, you’ll recognise it as the “look over there!” tactic. Effectively what happens is that, when faced with some tricky statistics, the cornered SNP minister will say something like, “yes, it’s bad, but at least it’s not as bad as England!” They’ve done it before with schools and the NHS. And now they’re doing it with coronavirus.

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But we know that comparisons with other places are inherently problematic. Different countries have different circumstances, they record and collect data in different ways, and politics gets in the way too. Do we really believe the figures coming out of Bolsonaro’s Brazil for example? There seems to be massive under-reporting of the deaths there, particularly in the favelas, and there are the same suspicions about the death rate in Russia.

Comparisons between Scotland and England raise similar problems, although that doesn’t stop the First Minister doing it. When asked about Scotland’s excess death rate (ie deaths above those we would expect in normal circumstances) Ms Sturgeon resorted to the England get-out clause right away. “They are still much higher than we want them to be,” she said, “but they are lower than the excess deaths in England.” Look over there!

However, the thing about comparisons with other countries is that the First Minister isn’t the only one who can do them. Ms Sturgeon is right to say the recorded excess death rate in Scotland is lower (slightly) than England’s, but it’s higher than the rate in Wales and Northern Ireland and massively higher than Germany, Norway, the US, and many other countries. It depends which comparison you do.

It’s also been pointed out to Ms Sturgeon that comparisons with England do not always work in her favour and that Scotland has a higher death rate in care homes than England does. But her response to that is that deaths in English care homes are being under-reported, which is rather the point isn’t it? Different countries record these things in different ways which makes comparisons problematic. So stop doing it.

The implication behind the comparisons with England, of course, is that Ms Sturgeon and her government are responsible for the fact that Scotland appears to be doing better. But that isn’t necessarily so, again because of the problem of comparing countries: Scotland has a much lower population density than England and England’s figures include London, where the virus spread first and fast before the national lockdown. The Scottish Government has also followed broadly the same policies and timings as the UK, which suggests any differences are down to varying populations, or reporting techniques, or something else.

The point is that, rather than making such comparisons, the focus should be on improvement instead. When challenged about waiting times for cancer treatment or in A&E, or the pass rates in schools, or the excess death rate from coronavirus, the Scottish Government shouldn’t be comparing the figures to England, they should be comparing the figures to the record in Scotland itself. In other words, are we doing better or worse in Scotland than we were before? Reasonable people will care about things getting better in Scotland, not being better than England.

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The problem is that changing the narrative in this way is unlikely to happen as long as the English get-out clause appears to work with some voters. Nicola Sturgeon’s approval rating on the handling of the pandemic is above 80% even though the policies and consequences of Covid have been broadly similar in England and Scotland.

Partly, the relative immunity from political damage may be because of those small but dodgy comparisons with England hitting the mark. But partly it may be because of the most damning comparison of all: the calm, competent and occasionally emotional performance in Edinburgh and the bumbling of the Tory androids in London.

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