Nicola Sturgeon’s memory is a fascinating and frustrating thing.
At times, the former First Minister of Scotland’s powers of recall are quite remarkable. No detail escapes Sturgeonian examination, no nuance goes unnoticed. On other occasions, it fails her completely.
Take her appearance, in March 2021, before a committee of MSPs investigating the Scottish government’s handling of complaints of sexual assault levelled by a number of women against Alex Salmond. On that occasion, Sturgeon’s testimony was notable for its remarkable gaps. She simply didn’t remember details of a key meeting that had taken place just months previously. Even the extraordinary nature of the matters she was discussing could not help fill in the gaps in her recall.
Appearing in front of the UK Covid Inquiry in Edinburgh on Wednesday, Sturgeon showed no trace of that faulty memory. Her recollection was deep and wide. She remembered one particular cabinet meeting, she told counsel to the inquiry Jamie Dawson KC, ‘in detail’.
Sturgeon’s day started badly before she’d entered the inquiry’s room in Edinburgh. The modern Scottish establishment’s favourite anti-establishment figure, lawyer Aamer Anwar, launched a remarkable attack on her handling of the pandemic. Anwar, much admired by many in the SNP, said on behalf of the Scottish Covid Bereaved group that, during the pandemic, Sturgeon ‘projected a daily image of sincerity and wanting to do right’ but that this image had been shattered by her own actions.
For Anwar’s clients, the recent revelation that Sturgeon deleted a series of WhatsApp messages, sent and received during the crisis, breaking her promise to make them available remains unforgivable. The inquiry hearing may have been in the business of getting answers about government decision making, but for Sturgeon it was an opportunity to persuade Scots they should have no concerns about her message-deletion.
The former First Minister failed to settle those particular stormy waters.