WATCHING the Sunday politics shows can be an educational experience. Take Andrew Marr’s programme. Part way through the newspaper review, the Scot turned to the splash in the Sunday Telegraph.

“Virus tiers could end in nine weeks” said the headline on a story about Boris Johnson trying to head off a rebellion by his backbenchers over restrictions in England.

“Andrew Marr’s third law of journalism,” declared the host, “is put no weight whatever on that word ‘could’.”

He did not fill us in on his first and second laws, so there’s a space to watch.

With Nicola Sturgeon as the main guest, the Marr show carried on the Scottish theme by asking Sarah Smith, the BBC’s Scotland editor, to do the newspaper review from an eerily quiet Pacific Quay. The Scottish Government capitalised on the moment, too, by running a public information film about its test and protect app before the show began.

The interview with Ms Sturgeon would turn out to be a notable encounter, but before we could get to it there were grillings of Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, on both Marr and Ridge.

On the latter the host went for what one might call a Paxmanesque tone with Mr Raab, saying: “A tier system is not going to end in nine weeks, is it? Let’s get real.”

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Ridge asked what is rapidly becoming this season’s “how much is a pint of milk question” to politicians: how are you spending Christmas? With my folks and I hope my sister, said Mr Raab. Three household rule met, check.

She ended the interview on a “just finally”, cheeky, kite-flying question (another law of journalism). There was lots of talk about a reshuffle and the former Chancellor Sajid Javid becoming the next Foreign Secretary, said Ridge. “You looking over your shoulder a bit?”

“Not really,” the current Foreign Secretary said.

“A little bit?” asked Ridge.

“Forgive me, I don’t pay too much mind to the tittle tattle about reshuffle.”

“Oh come on,” said Ridge. “If someone is being talked up about taking your job you’ve got to be a little bit aware of that?”

“You have to look at who’s doing the talking up. But Sajid’s a great guy, I’ve known him since I entered politics. Look, the reality is the Prime Minister makes these decisions.” Either the studio lights were too hot or the Foreign Secretary was blushing.

So to the morning’s main event, Marr’s interview with Nicola Sturgeon, with the FM in her garden at home in Glasgow. Whether it was the bitterly cold morning, or she had been standing there for some time, the FM looked chilled to the bone, her breath coming out as clouds in the November air.

Marr left no room for a gentle warm up. Ms Sturgeon’s handling of the coronavirus had been much praised, he said, but should it have been?

“When you look at the data, isn’t the truth that Scotland has the third worst record in deaths from coronavirus of any country in Europe in the first wave?” asked Marr.

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Scotland had a lower death rate than England and Wales, said the FM, and a lower prevalence of the virus. Marr begged to differ, showing a table setting out deaths per million in England and Scotland over four weeks. In England in week 43, the figure was 16.3 per million and 19.3 for Scotland, rising to 40.6 and 50.5 respectively three weeks later.

“Across the whole of the UK, across much of Europe, far more people have died from this virus than any of us feel comfortable with,” said Ms Sturgeon. “I, for not just whoever long I am First Minister, but probably for the rest of my life, will deeply regret the number of people who have lost their lives in the face of this virus.”

Marr eventually turned to former First Minister Alex Salmond. Exonerated of all charges, would she like to see him back in the party? The FM said she was not going to get into “these issues” today because of the parliamentary inquiries underway.

Marr then played a clip from a previous interview with the FM in 2018 when he asked if she had heard any stories about Mr Salmond before the matter broke in the press.

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She said the first she heard was April when Mr Salmond told her about the complaints. Cut back to today. “Was that true?” Marr asked. If you were still in the market for lessons about journalism, this was a potentially “hold the front page” moment.

“I stand by what I said back then,” said the FM, insisting Marr was getting two separate matters mixed up. At this point, Marr could have brought up a March 2018 meeting with Mr Salmond’s former chief adviser about the allegations, which Ms Sturgeon later told parliament she had forgotten about, but the presenter moved on, his time fast running out.

The encounter was the kind of forensic back and forth that should have been done face to face in a studio. Instead it became a guddle in which interviewer and interviewee were talking over each other down the line, with a time delay further fogging proceedings. How much light was generated amid the heat is a question for viewers in Scotland to answer.

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