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by Kirsteen Paterson
31 January 2024
Nicola Sturgeon holds back tears as Covid inquiry asks if she was the 'right first minister'

Nicola Sturgeon said Boris Johnson was not the 'right prime minister' | Alamy

Nicola Sturgeon holds back tears as Covid inquiry asks if she was the 'right first minister'

A tearful Nicola Sturgeon was asked if she thought she was "the right first minister" to tackle the pandemic at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

Sturgeon, who stepped down in 2023, was asked if she shared the view expressed by some earlier witnesses to the inquiry that Boris Johnson, who she branded a "f***ing clown" in a message to an advisor, was the "wrong prime minister" for the crisis.

She said: "Yes. Again, I'm risking here going further than I should and being reprimanded for sounding political – I’m not meaning to be.

"I suppose I'm trying to put that into context. I don’t think I’m betraying any secrets here when I thought Boris Johnson to be the wrong person to be prime minister, full stop. So that answer has to be seen in that context."

Asked by inquiry counsel Jamie Dawson KC if she was "precisely the right first minister" in the circumstances, a tearful Sturgeon answered: "No, that's not how I would have thought of it at all. 

"I was the first minister when the pandemic struck – there’s a large part of me that wishes I hadn’t been, but I was – and I wanted to be the best first minister I could be during that period. It’s for others to judge the extent which I succeeded."

On relationships in the Scottish Government, Sturgeon – who served in various ministerial posts before succeeding Alex Salmond to the top job – said: "I suspect in every government everywhere across the world, and I would imagine the Scottish Government was no different, that ministers will moan about the first minister or the prime minister to each other – maybe I used to do it in a previous job in the Scottish Government as well, so that is normal."

On whether she saw "political opportunity" in the pandemic, Sturgeon said: "I didn't see an opportunity of any description in Covid, I saw a threat, a risk, a catastrophe.

"My memories of the early part of 2020, in terms of how I was feeling and thinking and the emotions that I was experiencing, was at first fear at what might be about to unfold and confront the country."

She went on: "At times in those early days I felt overwhelmed by the scale of what we were dealing with. And perhaps more than anything, I felt an overwhelming responsibility to do the best I could. 

"The idea that in those horrendous days, weeks, I was thinking of a political opportunity I find, well, it just wasn't true.

The inquiry continues.

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