Michael Gove’s departure at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry hearings in Edinburgh drew a heartfelt response from a chap in the watching crowd. “You are an AWFUL man!” someone shouted as the minister entered a waiting car. Mr Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, could consider himself cut down to size, Scotland-style.

The Edinburgh hearings have been the only show in town since they began. Only the arrival of Hamilton at the Festival Theatre at the end of February has generated more interest and sheer sweaty excitement. Today there is only one name on the bill, that of Nicola Sturgeon, former First Minister of Scotland.

As the start time approaches listen carefully and you might hear an odd sound in the vicinity. That will be the clack, clack, clack of knitting needles as the audience settles in for the duration. We are all les tricoteuses now.

No need to get there early and fight for a place. In these revolutionary times, there is room for everyone to attend via YouTube. Watch from home with tea and biscuits as the most famous woman in Scotland is vindicated/vanquished depending on your point of view.

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Most of us have a point of view when it comes to Ms Sturgeon. It is rare to find anyone who is neutral on the subject. She has her supporters and detractors and the twain are unlikely to meet on common ground any time soon. Perhaps they never will.

What is it about this individual that provokes such intense emotions for and against? In a crowded field of politicians jostling for attention, what elevated her above the fray? This is a woman, after all, who went from a bought council house in Ayrshire to Bute House, from a state school to second place, behind Queen Elizabeth, on a list of the UK’s most powerful women.

Seven years on from that Forbes ranking a lot has changed, for Ms Sturgeon and for Scotland. Yet in some ways we are a country stuck in a state of suspended animation, split down the middle on independence. Half want it, half want the whole thing to go away. Another twain destined not to meet.

However you feel about her, Ms Sturgeon is a phenomenon. Even her fall from the heights of popularity has been spectacular. In a poll for the Sunday Times at the weekend she scored minus 19 for trustworthiness. Three years before she was on plus 18. That is one serious case of buyers’ remorse on Scotland’s part.

We know the reasons to be for or against Ms Sturgeon. They have been explored in the pages of this newspaper and others, in countless radio phone-ins and television programmes. In pubs and clubs, in kitchens and cafes, classroom and staff room.

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Take your pick from the ferries, questions over party finances, failure to close the education attainment gap, gender recognition reform, the Salmond trial, baby boxes, the Scottish Child Payment, her leadership from the front during the pandemic, boosting Scotland’s standing in the UK. After so long in power there has to be something there for everyone.

Details may vary, but what is not in question is the intensity of feeling Ms Sturgeon sparks in general. There have been many attempts over the years to sum her up, some affectionate, others not, from Nippy Sweetie to just plain “Nicola”, first name only, like Madonna. The Scottish Tories had fun with Evita for a while, but it never caught on, the resemblance between Ms Sturgeon, the real-life Eva Peron and the Andrew Lloyd Webber version being a stretch too far for most.

So we return to the question of the hour: who is this woman? Of late, because of the Covid hearings and much to the dismay of her supporters, she has been described as just as bad as Boris Johnson, if not worse.

The other day I saw Johnson had been replaced by Tony Blair. Ms Sturgeon has gone from being a heroine of the progressive left, to being grouped with a PM who prorogued Parliament and one accused by many of illegally invading Iraq. That is quite an achievement in anyone’s book.

To admirers she is more of a rock star, capable of filling a mid-sized arena with her fans. She is a pioneering woman politician in office for a record time, a proven election winner, a role model, even a Vogue model if you please.

The irony is that the woman Ms Sturgeon most resembles is Margaret Thatcher, the person she hated so much it propelled her into the SNP and a life in politics. Like Mrs Thatcher, Ms Sturgeon generates an intensity of feeling that is remarkable. Other women politicians who have come close to matching this include Harriet Harman at the height of her feminist campaigning (replaced as an object of ire by Angela Rayner). Now respected for her achievements, “Harriet Harperson”, as she was known to her critics, used to irritate the bejesus out of male MPs across the house. Internationally, Hillary Clinton is probably the closest comparison to Ms Sturgeon as an opinion divider.

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Mrs Thatcher would never have said she was treated differently, and to her disadvantage, because of being a woman, but Ms Sturgeon is of a generation that holds such truths to be self-evident. She has had the “woman card” played against her. Yet at the same time she has been accused of working against women’s interests, as was the case with gender recognition reform.

If it is not being a female leader that so divides opinion on Ms Sturgeon is it a class thing? Is there a snob factor at work here, one that believes she got too big for her working-class boots? Or is it another variation on the tall poppy syndrome prevalent in Scotland?

Maybe it is nothing personal and everything to do with plain old political differences and judging people by results.

A cautionary tale or a success story, misunderstood or understood only too well, Ms Sturgeon occupies a space that is all her own. Yet at the same time she is an example others can learn from.

Whatever your reading, and as we will see when she gives evidence to the inquiry today, Ms Sturgeon was, and remains, a headline act in Scottish and UK politics. See you in the cheap seats.