THREE-day weeks, the Army helping out, candles the new toilet roll, the phrase “crisis, what crisis?” in the headlines again. Okay, confession time, whose idea was it to turn the clock back to 1975?

One newspaper appealed for photos of the time, as if seeking to prove the stories were true. The abiding memory I have is of rats and bin bags and soldiers spearing rats. Even in the black and white world of the 1970s it was a depressing, alarming time, a moment when the semblance of order had been up-ended and anything seemed possible.

Not a place anyone would want to revisit, yet it is remarkable how often the 1970s are dredged up in politics. The Wilson-Heath-Callaghan years are a handy shorthand for a government that has lost its grip and is buffeted by events. No government wants that charge laid at its door because the next stop is electoral punishment and the blame for whatever comes next. Back then it was Thatcherism. This time, one hardly dare speculate.

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A desire not to be tainted by the 1970s might have been one reason why Scotland’s First Minister fought so hard to avoid using the word “crisis” in relation to Scotland’s NHS. Yet looking at the reality on the ground it is hard not to do so.

From this weekend, 114 soldiers will drive ambulances, with the fire service lending a hand and taxis on standby, and another 111 Army personnel will staff mobile Covid testing centres. But it is not a crisis.

A father of three dies after a 40-hour wait for an ambulance. But it is not a crisis.

The number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E is at a record high of 551. But it is not a crisis.

One doctor told Helen McArdle, The Herald’s health correspondent, that a patient had spent close to 48 hours waiting for a bed. But it is not a crisis.

It looks like a crisis, it sounds like a crisis, NHS staff are calling it a crisis. But it is not a crisis.

After days of her Health Secretary ducking media questions (one brief video call quote is no substitute for an extended interview), the First Minister was ready to acknowledge what everyone knew. Still, there was only so far she would go.

She wanted the crisis placed in context. “The NHS is facing crisis conditions as a result of a global pandemic,” Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament. “It is facing crisis conditions here in Scotland and it is facing crisis conditions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

In short, there is a crisis – or "crisis conditions" – but it is all down to Covid. Seriously?

No-one who has come into contact with the health service in the last 10-15 years could reasonably believe that, Covid aside, the NHS is basically doing okay. Not perfect, nothing is, but sound. There when you need it, and isn’t that what matters?

It is, and many people are finding out that this is simply not the case. There is an understandable reluctance to use personal experience to prove a political point. Yet when it comes to the NHS, what happens to us shapes how we see the service. Covid has brought many more people into contact with the NHS, and the state in general, than would otherwise have been the case. What they have seen, and what has shocked and angered them so much, is that the safety net they thought was there is not.

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The old saying is right: in the UK the NHS is the closest thing most people have to religion. When they call on this benevolent all-seeing God they expect them to be there. When they are not, it hurts. Ambulance delays, people living with pain, in mental distress, essential treatment postponed. All of this was a reality before Covid came along.

The public knows there is a long list of things that ail the NHS, from not enough capacity to staff shortages, from an ageing population to being forced to carry the can for inadequate social care. Would it be too much for politicians to acknowledge this?

That depends if they are in government or not. You can see Ms Sturgeon’s difficulty. Concede that the problems go beyond Covid and voters wonder, rightly, what you have spent the past 14 years doing instead of tackling them. They will ask what was more important to you. All roads from there, in Ms Sturgeon’s case, lead to the pursuit of independence. Instead of fixing the NHS roof when the sun was shining, SNP Governments spent the years imagining a whole new city down the road.

It is a hard truth to admit. To acknowledge that things could have been done better. To ask for help. To be open with the public. The UK Government and the opposition at Holyrood hardly make it easier, each as willing as the next to play politics with the NHS knowing, in the latter’s case, that they will not be called upon to do something about it.

Yet there is no better time to be frank about a crisis than when you are in the middle of it. Look to the UK Government for an example. At what other time would a Conservative administration be able to propose the biggest tax hike since the war to pay for social care? On what planet would a Conservative Chancellor be able to spend billions paying people’s wages and keeping them in jobs?

The Scottish Government has in theory given itself a breathing space by saying any independence referendum must wait till the Covid crisis is over.

In reality, politics remains dominated by independence; civil servants are spending time and money working on a prospectus; a second referendum looms large. The First Minister makes the political weather, and every day the barometer is set to change with a chance of independence.

Instead of spending time on something highly unlikely to take place within the time frame she has set, instead of concerning herself with the politically expedient word to describe the state of the NHS, why not level with the public?

Acknowledge that the pandemic has shone a light on the cracks in the NHS but it did not cause them all. Admit the extent of the NHS’s problems and lead a grown up discussion about what to do about them, and how much it will cost. Concede that it is not all Westminster’s fault and that you could have done better.

Scotland’s NHS is in crisis, and now is the time for humility and candour. If not now, when?