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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Image and Reality

by our Scottish political affairs correspondent

A RECENT opinion poll showed that about four out of five people say Nicola Sturgeon has handled the present crisis well. Less than a third think that Boris Johnson has done well. This despite the fact Sturgeon has done more or less than same as Johnson, usually a week or so later, with some minor modification of policy to pretend otherwise.

For instance, in England people can now exercise outdoors with up to five others from different households. North of the border people from two households, in groups of up to eight people, can exercise outside together. The doubtless complex science behind that particular decision has not been made public. Tennis and golf are allowed, but the most popular sport seems to be motoring to the nearest branch of McDonalds to queue at the takeaway window.

The main difference seems to be that Nicola Sturgeon spends far more time in front of the TV cameras than even the immensely vain Johnson did in the old days before the coronavirus crisis overwhelmed him. Her hours in front of the camera also allow her to make announcements that mean she can evade detailed parliamentary scrutiny of her decisions.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has a point when he says the Scottish Government and individual ministers have not made themselves open to scrutiny during the pandemic.

The cover-up by the SNP government of an early COVID-19 outbreak in late February at a Nike event in Edinburgh has gone unremarked.

Had a similar cover-up been conducted by the UK Government, it is not hard to imagine Cabinet resignations, calls for a Civil Service inquiry and demands that the Prime Minister consider his position. Certainly, public opinion would have reflected dimly on this sort of behaviour. But that has not happened in Scotland.

Polling guru Sir John Curtice says that Holyrood has a “halo effect”, which means Ms Sturgeon and her cronies get “credit for what is done well in Scotland…and blame for poor performance is laid at the door of Westminster”.

Labour’s Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said: “A better communications strategy than Boris Johnson does not negate the fact that we have one of the worst excess mortality rates on the planet,” adding that: “It’s little wonder, given that the country’s original COVID-19 outbreak was covered up, that Scotland also has one of the worst testing rates in the world, and with the national scandal of elderly people being sent from hospital to care homes without being tested.” But these hard facts are unlikely to trouble your average SNP voter.

Amongst the other actions, or inactions, of the Scottish Government were: the substandard provision of personal protective equipment; the ignoring of the six firms who offered to provide PPE; underuse of testing capacity, which showed that only one-third of capacity was used. these all get passed over.

The SNP Government took a very leisurely approach to letting supermarkets know the names of those requiring food deliveries. The Scottish scheme was set up weeks after that in England.

On the matter of the high death rate in nursing homes, the normally loyal nationalist think-tank Common Weal has described the situation in Scotland’s nursing homes as “an unmitigated disaster” that “possibly represents the single greatest failure of devolved government… since the creation of the Scottish parliament”.

This was due to a decision of Heath Secretary Jeane Freeman to move elderly patients from hospital to care homes so that ward capacity could be cleared for COVID-19 patients. (She thought the numbers involved were a third of the true figure.) In many cases this was done without testing and it had with disastrous results. Almost half of all COVID-19 deaths have taken place there. The best Ms Sturgeon could say in her defence was that she did not know about the concept of asymptomatic transmission – which was known about since January.

At the same time, the emergency hospital in Glasgow is lying totally unused. Some hardboiled cynics have been saying that because it was built by the British Army the SNP could not bring themselves to acknowledge its usefulness.