NICOLA Sturgeon is a very big fish swimming in a very small and polluted pond. Let’s face it, we should never have expected her route map out of lockdown to be anything other than different from England’s.

Her determination to swim in a different direction through the pandemic has been evident from the start, when she opted for the incomprehensible slogan REMEMBER FACTS rather than the easily absorbed HANDS, FACE, SPACE.

When Boris Johnson set out a clear week-by-week guide to easing coronavirus controls, giving business and industry time to prepare, it was almost a racing certainty that our First Minister would do the opposite.

Indeed, she may even have surprised her toughest critics by publishing no route map at all. Apparently, we won’t see that until mid-March. For now, all we know is that most pupils will return to school by March 15, while by the same period, four masked and socially-distanced people from a maximum of two households will be allowed to mix outdoors again.

READ MORE: Struan Stevenson: SNP power, arrogance and incompetence

For the poor old hospitality and ‘non-essential’ retail sector, reopening will not be allowed at least before the end of April. Anyone wanting a haircut before then will need to travel to England.

While Boris Johnson has been accused by some of being overly cautious in his easing of restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon is being utterly glacial. Non-essential retail will reopen on April 12 in England. But here, after being almost entirely closed for the best part of a year, barring a week or two last summer, shops, pubs, restaurants, hotels, gyms and garden centres will face weeks more of closure; weeks more of paying rents and overheads without any income.

For the SNP Government this is a win-win situation in the run up to the Holyrood elections in May. By immobilising the Scottish economy for far longer than England, they can demand more cash assistance from Westminster, on top of the massive £11 billion already allocated by Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the extra £1.2 billion he announced on Wednesday in his budget. But already finance secretary Kate Forbes and Ian Blackford, the party's leader at Westminster, have denounced this huge windfall as too little, too late and hit the SNP’s grudge and grievance button.

As covid cases plummet and the vaccination programme rolls out across the most vulnerable sectors of society, we might have expected something better than the news that Scotland will simply return, at the end of April, to geographical lockdowns, similar to those we suffered last autumn. Under these absurd proposals apparently you will be able to visit elderly relatives in a care home, but not in their own home.

All we know with absolute certainty is that the Holyrood elections are exempt. They will go ahead as planned on May 6. There can be no normal electioneering. No public hustings to hear the candidates. No travelling from one constituency to another to stump up support. But apparently it will be safe enough to knock on doors to canvass votes and to trot down to the polling station on election day.

Meanwhile, our First Minister, courtesy of the BBC, enjoys her regular appearances on TV, straying often into party politics, providing the country with her daily Vote for Nicola Sturgeon Show. International election observers would take fright at such arrangements, more akin to a banana republic than a modern democracy.

But all pleas to postpone the election until the pandemic is over have fallen on deaf ears. Miss Sturgeon and her authoritarian team want another five years in power and want to race ahead with Indyref2 if they win a majority. Nothing is allowed to interfere with their obsession for independence, not even rebuilding Scotland’s blighted post-Covid economy.

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Even the long-awaited Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) review, commissioned by the Scottish Government into John Swinney’s disastrous Curriculum for Excellence schools’ policy, has now been postponed until after the May elections. In true Stalinist form, all bad news has been swept under the carpet.

Tired, drained and tarnished by sleaze and incompetence, the SNP government heads into the Holyrood elections in May, leaving behind a Scotland diminished by 14 years of nationalist control. Our schools, once the envy of the modern world, are plummeting down the international league tables for science, maths and English, thanks to an SNP-devised curriculum that has failed kids and teachers alike.

We have the worst record of drug deaths in Europe. Our cherished NHS has been weakened, with the outrage of unsafe hospitals, the total lack of preparation for the pandemic and the care homes scandal.

Scotland’s business sector has been undermined by years of failure and neglect, even before the lockdown brought our economy to an effective halt. Rusting ferries at Ferguson Marine, the collapse of BiFab, an airport with no flights; the litany of failed SNP government intervention is a sorry tale of massive financial loss.

Instead of dealing with these problems and doing the day job, Nicola Sturgeon and her team are engaged in a vicious uncivil war within their own ranks on the Salmond affair. The First Minister and her predecessor have accused each other of being deluded, egotistical, unprincipled liars. One of them must be telling the truth.

READ MORE: Struan Stevenson: The SNP’s grudge and grievance

Eight hours of obfuscation and deflection by Nicola Sturgeon before the Holyrood Committee on Wednesday did nothing to reassure the public. The SNP government meltdown has seen Scotland’s civil service, parliament, crown office and democratic process called into question, with no-one willing to be held accountable, no sackings, no resignations, no apologies. It is an ugly sight and a stark warning of what might lie in store for an independent Scotland.

Nicola, beware! According to Wikipedia, the Sturgeon is an ancient species, with a fin similar to a shark and a smooth-skinned, heavily armoured body. With an evolution that can be traced back some 245 million years, it is among the longest-living in the dinosaur family. It can live for 50 to 60 years, but is now endangered and threatened with extinction due to pollution! It may be too late to save the Sturgeon.

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