LET me tell you a story; one I’ve never told before. A year ago, one of my daughters had an operation. On the day of her surgery, a package arrived at the house. It contained six books – one for each week she was due to spend in a wheelchair – and a lengthy handwritten note.

She has the letter in her keepsake box, in which it will remain forever. She was excited, touched and grateful. We all were, particularly given the identity of the sender. A person who is not flush with the spare time required to put this level of thought into a gift, or a letter.

The sender was Nicola Sturgeon.

Ms Sturgeon is someone whom I’ve had occasion to meet, because of my job. And I must say I’ve always found my private interactions with her to be quite the opposite of the persona which her opponents and some sections of the press advance. I find her warm, open, friendly, interested and engaged. I like her, and I like that I like her, because she’s my First Minister just as she is everyone else’s.

Now, the purpose of this story is not as a prelude to a column about operations, or books, or children. It is, instead, an introduction to a column about people. People like you and me. People like Nicola Sturgeon and, yes, Boris Johnson too.

We would, all of us, do well to remember that our leaders possess all the same human failures and frailties as the rest of us. Millions of us know all about failure and frailty, now. I fear I am comprehensively hopeless as a home teacher. Others are discovering that DIY is not for them. Many are trying and failing to work effectively away from their office.

Our own personal failings may not surprise us. Many people will have baked it into 2020 – it’s a year of treading water and hoping you can hold on.

Not so for our leaders. Far from treading water, the national expectation is that they will dominate these choppiest of seas and swim us to a brighter future.

Imagine living with this level of responsibility, at this time. And imagine leadership when the tools with which Ms Sturgeon and Mr Johnson have had to work are so rusty and rotten.

Consider first that they were confronted at the outset of the pandemic with two different sets of mass death, faced to choose one over the other. One set is obvious – those who were about to die from Covid-19. This is a large number, originally estimated at around a quarter of a million, but because of lockdown now sitting at a couple of hundred thousand less than that.

This imminent death stalked our leaders. The obvious human reaction was to try to save people. They did. But they knew the cost of doing so. Covid kills, but lockdown kills too. It kills more slowly and unpredictably, and indeed in ways that may never be fully understood, but those who die in a year from that undiagnosed cancer, or in five years from the mental ill health into which they slipped, or in 10 years from the poverty into which they were plunged by unemployment, or in 20 years from the alcoholism which started during lockdown.

Imagine being a leader who has to make this choice.

Secondly, it is becoming increasingly obvious that our leaders have been relying on scientific and medical advice which has been, to be charitable, transient. It is, I am sure, frustrating for Ms Sturgeon and Mr Johnson to hear that if they had locked down earlier they could have saved lives, particularly so since the people telling them this are the same people whose advice on lockdown timing was followed in March. Equally frustrating is to be ridiculed by the medical community for flirting with a herd immunity strategy when those advancing the strategy in the first place were the leaders of that community.

It has become very “on-trend” to heap opprobrium on politicians who fail to listen to experts; it is less clear how we should judge a politician who listens to experts only to find that those experts have changed their minds. Experts can u-turn with little consequence; not so politicians.

Imagine being a leader who has to grapple with this.

Thirdly, we might do well to think about the personal strain on our leaders. When, reader, did you last have a day off? Are you on one right now? Was it yesterday? Or last weekend? When do you suppose Ms Sturgeon last had a day off? I’d guess February.

Mr Johnson has had more time off than Ms Sturgeon, but that was to recover from a life-threatening altercation with the coronavirus, for which he can perhaps be forgiven.

Imagine being a leader who has an obligation to make decisions which will impact all of us for decades to come, all while you’re, for want of a better word, knackered.

This is not an appeal for us all to feel sorry for those in power. They chose this life; indeed, in the case of both Mr Johnson and Ms Sturgeon they coveted the job for many years before reaching office.

It is an appeal, though, to think of the politicians with whom we disagree as human beings before we enter into a political discourse which opposes or abuses them.

I am not comfortable with every decision made by our leaders, and over the summer I expect to find myself shaking and nodding my head in equal measure at the steps they take to remove us from lockdown.

However, that is easy for me to do, sitting behind a laptop. And it’s easy for opposition politicians, too, knowing that they have no realistic prospect of having to make these decisions themselves.

If I could make one appeal to opponents of Ms Sturgeon and Mr Johnson it would be this. Disagree with their actions –that’s healthy and indeed in some cases necessary. But think carefully before questioning their motives for taking them.

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Johnson are currently in the midst of the most difficult period of political leadership outside of world wars. Their opponents would do well to recognise that life in opposition is simpler, easier and less consequential than life in government.

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Johnson are the people in the office. In the final analysis, it’ll be they who are judged.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald

Read more: Coronavirus: 25,000 lives could have been saved