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Sorry no longer seems to be the hardest word when it comes to questions on coronavirus

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The destructive and tragic sweep of the coronavirus through Scotland’s care homes continued to dog Nicola Sturgeon when she stood up at Holyrood’s First Minister’s Questions.

“This is a really serious issue,” admitted Ms Sturgeon as she endured the first volley in what was to become a two-pronged attack from Ruth Davidson of the Tories and Labour’s Richard Leonard.

Following up the disclosure that dozens of patients who had tested positive for the virus were transferred from hospital into care homes, Ms Davidson asked when the Scottish Government had known this was happening?

Ms Sturgeon’s answer was that ministers had put in place guidance but did not know of the “individual clinical decisions” that had led to the discharge of hospital patients.

Ms Davidson tried again. “At no point did the first minister actually confirm or deny that anyone in her government knew, or when they knew,” Ms Davidson said.

Ruth Davidson, Tory Holyrood leader.

Ms Sturgeon accused the Scottish Conservatives Holyrood leader of not listening carefully enough to her answer, a point she made with “the greatest respect” – always a sign that things are getting tetchy.

The tetchiness escalated when Ms Sturgeon made what is likely to become a weekly dig at Ms Davidson for declining to stand at May’s Scottish election and taking up a seat in the House of Lords.

“I know that Ruth Davidson is planning to leave democratic politics. But she has surely been in parliament for long enough to understand the separation of powers,” said Ms Sturgeon, giving her rival a little lecture on the constitution.

The first minister went on to criticise the Tories for abstaining in a committee vote to continue the Aberdeen lockdown. Her government, Ms Sturgeon said, did not have the “luxury of abstaining” as there were tough decisions to be made during the crisis.

The first minister said she would continue to discharge her responsibility to the “best of my ability”.

“Unlike certain other people, I will be held accountable for that by the electorate,” Ms Sturgeon added, to hammer home her point.

But the care homes issue came back to haunt the first minister when Mr Leonard began his questioning.

Richard Leonard, Scottish Labour leader.

Would the first minister accept full responsibility for what had happened in care homes? And would she apologise to residents, staff and grieving relatives?

“I stand up and take responsibility for every aspect of this government’s handling of the pandemic every day of the week,” Ms Sturgeon said. “I have said before, and will continue to say, that if the government has got it wrong at any stage, on any aspect of our handling of the situation, notwithstanding our best intentions, yes — I am sorry for that.”

At one time wringing an apology out of a politician was like drawing teeth, but the coronavirus crisis has changed that. Sorry no longer seems to be the hardest word.

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