Nicola Sturgeon has categorically denied that her response to the Covid pandemic was influenced by politics or pursuing Scottish independence.

Speaking under oath at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, the former first minister agreed her desire for independence ran through her “very core”, but insisted she had put it aside in the crisis.

She denied seeing every decision through an independence “prism” or "politicising" the emergency.

"None of those decisions were influenced in any way by political considerations or by trying to gain an advantage for the cause of independence," she said. 

“I was motivated solely by trying to do the best we could to keep people as safe as possible."

After her comments appeared to be contradicted by a Scottish cabinet minute about arguments for independence based on "the experience of the coronavirus crisis", inquiry chair Lady Hallett intervened to push Ms Sturgeon for an answer.

READ MORE: Tearful Nicola Sturgeon wishes she hadn't been FM when Covid struck

Ms Sturgeon was speaking after rejecting Cabinet minister Michael Gove’s claim that she “jumped the gun” by announcing Covid measures that had been agreed UK-wide.

She said her Government was “perfectly within our rights” to be the first of the four nations to announce a ban on mass gatherings of more than 500 people on 12 March 2020. 

She had done so before a UK-level Cobra meeting called later that day to discuss the crisis.

Mr Gove said Ms Sturgeon going first had caused “discomfort” and “disquiet” in Whitehall, and then Prime Minister Boris Johnson questioned if Ms Sturgeon could be trusted.

Ms Sturgeon denied going too fast given the public’s right to know, and blamed the UK Government for moving “too slowly” in communicating its decision.

She told the inquiry her responsibility was “to the Scottish people, not Boris Johnson”.

She said: “I would put it that I communicated these things quickly, perhaps the UK Government were communicating them too slowly. Doing so with urgency at that point was required.”

She denied breaching confidentiality, arguing she didn’t owe any to the UK Government.

She told inquiry counsel Jamie Dawson KC: “I was not breaching confidentiality and I would go further than that and suggest that given the situation we were dealing with, the whole notion of confidentiality is a bit absurd.

“This was a virus that was spreading rapidly at this point. We were taking decisions that were about trying to stem the spread of that virus.

“At no point in my thinking was I trying to steal a march on anybody else or trying to get ahead of it,” she said.

“I was simply trying to do my job to the best of my ability.”

She said the UK Government was often an “outlier” among the four nations.

Turning to whether she took certain decisions in order to promote independence, Mr Dawson said: “Is it possible, do you think, for you to take decisions on any matter without seeing them through the prism of Scottish independence and your burning desire to achieve it?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “Yes, I know for a fact it is.

“I have been in politics for 30 years. I've been a lifelong campaigner for independence. 

“I don't think in my entire life, have I ever thought less about politics generally and independence particularly than I did during the course of the pandemic, and particularly in those early stages of the pandemic.

“People will judge, for better or worse, the decisions my government took.

“I want to say to people and give this inquiry an assurance that none of those decisions were influenced in any way by political considerations or by trying to gain an advantage for the cause of independence. 

“I was motivated solely by trying to do the best we could to keep people as safe as possible.

“And we did that to some extent, but not to and perhaps we never could have done it, to the extent I would have wished we could have done.

“And I carry the regret for the loss of life, the loss of opportunity, the loss of education of our young people. I carry the guilt of that with me every single day. 

“But in all of the mistakes I made, that I will concede some I may argue weren’t mistakes, I will absolutely assert very strongly that I did not take decisions for political reasons. 

“And I certainly did not take decisions influenced in some way by considerations around the constitutional argument.”

The Herald:

She reminded the inquiry that on 18 March 2020, her constitution secretary Michael Russell wrote to Mr Gove to tell him the Scottish Government had paused all work on a second referendum, work that did not restart meaningfully until late 2021.

“The government I led focused entirely on trying to do the best we could through Covid.”

She agreed with Mr Dawson that it was a “matter of instinct” for her to promote independence, but denied it was her instinct to seek division with the UK Government.

“When you suddenly find yourself in a position of being the leader of a government, in the face of a global pandemic, you suddenly find that the instincts you thought you had are not the instincts that come to the fore.

“My only instinct in the early part of 2020, ... was to try to take the best decisions I could, and for my government to take the best decisions we could to steer the country through Covid.

"I hope that people observing the Scottish Government observing how I went about things during that period, whatever they think about me, my politics, my government, I hope that any reasonable person will will have seen that.” 

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Mr Dawson then asked her about the minute of a Scottish cabinet meeting of 30 June 2020 at which ministers “agreed that consideration should be given to restarting work on independence and a referendum, with the arguments reflecting the experience of the coronavirus crisis and developments on EU Exit”.

Ms Sturgeon said she would not have agreed to restarting work at the time, and said the minute reflected a "comment" someone must have made.

However Lady Hallett corrected her and said the minute showed what ministers had "agreed", not merely a comment.

Ms Sturgeon said that the agreement had only been to consider the matter, and no action ultimately resulted from it.

Mr Dawson asked if politicising the pandemic would have been a “considerable betrayal of the Scottish people”.

Ms Sturgeon replied: “If I had at any point decided to politicise a global pandemic that was robbing people of their lives and livelihoods, and educational opportunities, and had decided in the face of that to prioritise campaigning for independence, then, yes, it absolutely would have been as you described,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“Which is precisely why I didn’t do it – I wouldn’t have done it.”

Mr Dawson also asked Ms Sturgeon about an email from the address of deputy FM John Swinney on 19 July 2020 about travel restrictions.

It said: "It won’t matter how much ministers might justify it on health grounds, the Spanish government will conclude it is entirely political; they won’t forget; there is a real possibility they will never approve EU membership for an independent Scotland as a result.”

The author of the email is understood to have been Scott Wightman, the Scottish Government's director general of exteneal affairs.

The former first minister said: “These are decisions that were taken for public health reasons that were difficult decisions.”

Ms Sturgeon was also asked about a Twitter/X message she had posted on 23 July 2020 in which she linked Mr Johnson and independence.

It said: “I welcome the PM to Scotland today. One of the key arguments for independence is the ability of Scotland to take our own decisions, rather than having our future decided by politicians we didn’t vote for, taking us down a path we haven’t chosen. His presence highlights that.”

Nicola Sturgeon said she should have “been the bigger person” and refrained from sending it. 

“On reflection, should I have risen to the bait and posted that tweet? Probably not.”