THERE’S consternation in suburbia. “It’s shocking what they’re doing to Nicola Sturgeon!” declared a friend of mine yesterday, full of righteous fury. “The opposition just believe everything Alex Salmond says.”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard those sentiments. It’s been striking to me, ever since the Salmond affair went ballistic last week, how many people outside the political bubble feel outraged on Nicola Sturgeon’s behalf, especially women, even if they don’t support the SNP. “I know who I believe,” said another friend last week, before either Ms Sturgeon or Mr Salmond had given evidence at Holyrood.

There’s another, similarly implacable group on the other side of the debate who see her with horns, not a halo, and had decided she was at it even before she opened her mouth. But the First Minister’s soaring approval ratings strongly suggest where most people’s sympathies lie.

Objectivity in this affair is all but a lost cause.

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This is a wee country. Nic and Alex have been the backdrop to our daily lives for years and years. They’re part of the family, for good or ill. Consequently we all have an opinion and those opinions have deepened over the years.

Further challenging our neutrality is the emotive issue that lies behind the row: the behaviour of a powerful man towards female colleagues. Me Too had a centrifugal effect on the public debate, hurling people to either ends of the spectrum. That too is influencing people’s feelings.

And there is the endless political tussle. As this Shakespearean plotline plays out, the future of the SNP hangs in the balance, a future in which a great many people are heavily invested.

But there’s even more to this than who gets to sit in the big office in St Andrew’s House. At stake is our national self-esteem. Here stands probably the most talented British politician of her generation, a figure respected both internationally and across party lines in Scotland – a woman who embodies what some people idealise as “Scottish values” – accused of serious wrongdoing at the height of her success. If the allegations were true, the sense of betrayal for a nation which has placed its trust in her would be wretched and the humiliation for Scotland would be deep and damaging.

No wonder many people don’t want to believe she’s at fault.

In my view, she has been able to provide answers of sorts to the most serious accusations she faces, though several questions remain.

The legal evidence published so far does not show that the Scottish Government persisted with the case in spite of being told the action was doomed.

On when she first knew of the complaints against Mr Salmond – and whether it was earlier than she had originally told parliament – Ms Sturgeon claims she initially forgot a meeting with Salmond aide Geoff Aberdein on March 29, 2018. She says that from what she can recall of it now, harassment was discussed in general terms, without her being made aware that specific allegations had been brought against Mr Salmond until April 2 – the date she had mentioned to parliament.

On whether the name of a complainant was wrongfully revealed by a senior Scottish Government official, Ms Sturgeon stated that this was not her understanding though she was not at the meeting in question. She added that Mr Salmond knew the names of both complainants by the time she met him on April 2 because he had apologised to one for his behaviour and discovered the identity of the other by going through the Scottish Government Flickr account.

We did not receive a wholly convincing explanation for the Scottish Government’s serially obstructive behaviour towards the committee.

But what she achieved with her eight-hour evidence session was to give the impression that her intentions were good – that if she made mistakes, they were honest mistakes.

Her memory lapses have been portrayed by opposition MSPs as convenient. Maybe, but as anyone over 30 can attest, they are also human.

Yes, there were holes in her evidence where she could not give an explanation for the government’s behaviour, but she succeeded in making those gaps seem less important than her overall trustworthiness.

HeraldScotland:

The working class girl from Ayrshire has always been redoubtable but has never projected self-importance. Combining humility with unwavering self-confidence is not an easy trick to pull off, but she managed it, admitting to her fallibility and sharing her feelings about the collapse of her friendship with Mr Salmond.

But she is certainly not out of the woods. There are two reports to be published in the next few weeks – by the harassment committee and the inquiry by James Hamilton QC on whether the First Minister breached the ministerial code – which will perhaps prove to be the real climax to this long saga.

The Scottish Conservatives have warned that polls show a strong majority of voters would want her to resign if she had breached the ministerial code, though with an election so close, I’m not so sure.

What she cannot afford, under any circumstances, is to appear angry or arrogant. For an ageing government, presiding over such a fiasco, that would not be a good look.

Her performance at First Minister’s Questions yesterday underlined the danger. Gone was the earnest, reflective tone of the previous day to be replaced by something altogether more combative and irritable (though she must have been exhausted). In a bad-tempered session marked by barracking, Ms Sturgeon seemed annoyed to be asked further questions about the affair. She pilloried Ruth Davidson for accusing her of breaking the ministerial code before the Hamilton inquiry had even concluded.

But she also refused to commit to resigning if she were found to have breached the code.

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Ms Sturgeon did well on Wednesday, and the Conservatives have overplayed their hand, but Ms Sturgeon could still overplay hers. Her government let down two women and wasted public money, resulting in many, many hours of parliamentary time being tied up as the failures are investigated.

The public may be with her for now, but that could change. Nicola Sturgeon is a remarkable politician. Her great strength is her capacity to connect with voters, but any hint that she takes them from granted could cost her dearly.

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