NICOLA Sturgeon is burning up her most valuable asset, trust, through her handling of the toxic and protracted Alex Salmond saga. This self-destruction couldn’t come at a worse time – for the country that is, not the First Minister or the SNP. Political careers and party fortunes mean nothing when weighed against the wellbeing of a nation.

The Scottish Government’s handling of coronavirus hasn’t been that much better than the UK Government. We all know that – it’s only the brutally partisan or terminally dim who believe otherwise.

It’s really only style which has set the two administrations apart – voters have trusted the carefully-worded and thoughtful Sturgeon, despite her many mistakes, while shaking their heads in disbelief at the clod-hopping Boris Johnson and his catalogue of absurd errors. It’s now an established part of political folklore that this has all been down to presentation – that Sturgeon just carries herself better than Johnson, that she’s more trustworthy. When Johnson opens his mouth voters instinctively raise an eyebrow; when Sturgeon speaks she gets a fair hearing.

However, if the FM continues to build a bonfire of public trust thanks to the SNP’s rancorous civil war, then it bodes ill for Scotland. If Sturgeon drains trust in herself over the Salmond saga, then trust will begin to evaporate when it comes to anything she says. If you don’t trust someone on Subject X, why trust them on Subject Y?

That’s worrying when it comes to coronavirus. Sturgeon has put her leadership front and centre during the pandemic. She’s the face on TV – it’s her leading the fight. If trust in her starts to erode, then what does that mean when it comes to her messaging on coronavirus? By damaging trust in herself over Salmond, is she damaging trust in herself over handling the pandemic?

The reason people are in a permanent state of rage with Johnson is that we know his innately untrustworthy behaviour inhibits the fight against the pandemic, and his actions therefore become potentially dangerous by undermining UK government statements about coronavirus.

For the sake of Scotland, Sturgeon can’t start to walk the same path now – just as we enter the unknown world of mass unemployment and a winter in pandemic.

Many voters have been prepared to forgive Sturgeon a lot because she emanated trust. But let’s be clear, her claims that she forgot about a meeting in which allegations of a sexual nature were mentioned about Salmond, are just ridiculous. Salmond was later acquitted of all charges of sexual assault.

When it comes to Sturgeon’s claims of amnesia, only those willing to self-deceive would believe something so patently absurd.

Simply picture yourself being told something of such magnitude about your friend, mentor and former boss. Is it possible you’d ever forget it?

The entire SNP civil war between the Salmond and Sturgeon camps is vile whichever way you look at it. The convenor of the Holyrood inquiry into the handling of the Salmond saga, the SNP’s Linda Fabiani, says the committee has been “completely frustrated” by what she described as “obstruction” from the government, the SNP and Salmond.

Yet Sturgeon claims it’s “outrageous” that she’s accused of not answering questions. Nor does she think it’s “reasonable” to ask her about her husband apparently urging on investigations into Salmond.

It may not be comfortable for Sturgeon to speak about her husband, but given that Peter Murrell is the SNP’s chief executive, it’s entirely appropriate to ask her difficult questions about the conduct of anyone in the party she leads. To believe otherwise is to abrogate leadership.

This is all corrosive when it comes to what Sturgeon says of the pandemic.

On Sunday, you could feel trust evaporating when she was questioned by the journalist Sophy Ridge on television. Ridge asked Sturgeon what the full coronavirus testing capacity was in Scotland. The First Minister gave a contorted answer and Ridge pushed her to “just give a straight answer”. Sturgeon said capacity was between 30-40,000 daily. Ridge said throughout the previous week, though, testing was around 13-18,000 daily. Sturgeon claimed that’s because Scotland is preparing spare capacity for winter.

Here’s the problem: that could well be true, but it just didn’t sound believable. Before the slippery behaviour surrounding Salmond, might such a comment have escaped into the ether, rendered unimportant because it came from the mouth of a ‘trustworthy’ politician?

Will any of this affect the independence debate? It’s unlikely. If a voter believes in independence then that constitutional position can remain unsullied by the behaviour of the SNP and its leader. But will it affect the SNP? The party has been riding high in the polls, however it’s hard to see how all this won’t cause some harm. The party is already riven with internal battles: Salmond v Sturgeon, Woke v Non-woke, Gradualists v Fundamentalists – to Plan B or not Plan B, that is the question.

Split parties always suffer – however, the SNP is so dominant in Scotland the current knifings and plots are highly unlikely to keep it from forming another government at Holyrood next year. Of course, if the party’s civil wars and resulting loss of trust did harm its chances of winning, that would be a blow to independence. No SNP government means no second referendum. This simple political truth means the indy faithful will put up with just about anything from the current SNP leadership as long as it guarantees a further step down the road to independence.

One easy way of shoring up trust is this: more scrutiny in parliament of what the SNP government, and in particular the First Minister, does, when it comes to Coronavirus. Self-evidently, in the midst of a pandemic, emergency powers were needed at the outset to fight the disease. But the SNP’s war on Covid didn’t get off to an auspicious start – the party had to be forced to abandon plans to suspend trial by jury during the pandemic.

Parliament needs to be consulted more, and have greater powers of control, over what the SNP government is doing in terms of effectively ruling by decree over the pandemic. Even if the stock in First Ministerial trust was at an all time high –which it’s clearly not – we need to remember this isn’t a presidential system we’re living under.