This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

The former Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman, citing former Times deputy editor Louis Heren, once said he approached every interview with the mindset: “why is this lying bastard lying to me?”.

It’s pretty much taken for granted that our politicians will if not outright lie, then certainly spin things in their favour and that comes down to more than just the words they use.

In 1960 John F Kennedy took on Richard Nixon in the first ever televised presidential debate and changed the way politics worked forever. The Republican candidate wore no makeup, and was visibly sweating under the hot studio lights while JFK, by contrast, appeared cool, calm and collected.

Nixon’s own mother called him after the broadcast to ask if he was sick, and polling after the debate was stark: those who listened on radio gave the win to Nixon, but those who watched on television gave it overwhelmingly to the Democrat.

Since then politicians being prepped and stage-managed to within an inch of their life has become the norm – that thing they do with their hands while speaking (you know the one)? That’s because pointing comes across as being aggressive and is therefore discouraged.

The Herald: John F Kennedy's coaching for television helped give the impression he had won the first ever televised presidential debateJohn F Kennedy's coaching for television helped give the impression he had won the first ever televised presidential debate (Image: Newsquest)
Some are better at it than others. Even his fiercest enemies would concede that former President Bill Clinton is blessed with natural charisma, while with others it’s easy to see the prep work. During the debates ahead of the independence referendum Alex Salmond would, after every question from the audience, walk out from behind his podium and it was almost possible to see the cogs turning in his head as he did so: “don’t put a barrier between yourself and the audience, open your arms wide, remember the person’s name – look relatable”.

All of which is to say we’re accustomed to politicians being coached and cajoled – but when it’s at our expense ahead of an official inquiry it leaves a rather more sour taste.

As revealed by The Herald, Professor Jason Leitch, Jeanne Freeman and Dr Audrey MacDougall, the Scottish Government’s chief social researcher, were helped by solicitors from Morton Fraser MacRoberts ahead of their appearance before the UK Covid Inquiry.

The Scottish Government said it had a “responsibility to offer appropriate support” to people appearing to give evidence, but for many it just doesn’t sit right.

If the inquiry is to identify any mistakes made during the pandemic and prevent them happening again, wouldn’t it behove those who were making the decisions to give the unvarnished truth, no matter how uncomfortable?

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Aside from the more tinfoil-hatted corners of the internet, nobody believes that the Scottish Government, the UK Government or anyone else was sitting in a dark room, rubbing their hands together menacingly and plotting to kill old people in care homes or lock up the population to bring in a one-world government.

Mistakes were certainly made and when it comes to things like PPE procurement there may well be legitimate questions to answer for a variety of public figures – wouldn’t we prefer to have it from the horse’s mouth rather than through a filter of legal assistance?

After all, it would appear that was good enough for some of the government’s messaging during the pandemic. Mr Leitch admitted that a decision to limit football crowds to 500 wasn’t based on any modelling but “you have to draw the line somewhere”, while others stated that although such events take place outside – where transmission is less likely – having numbers in the thousands would simply send the wrong message.

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It’s perhaps not too much to ask that if you’re going to govern by vibes you’re similarly open when it comes to scrutiny of that governance.