He’s often seemed to have his heart in the right place when standing up for his city, trying to make Westminster listen to the needs of the North. This political project should make Burnam a natural ally with devolved powers.
That’s why it’s so disappointing he’s picked a bad-tempered fight with Scottish leadership over Covid travel regulations. Since the start of the pandemic, political tension has simmered around Scotland making its own decisions, and about the flow of communication.
I’d have thought it’d be Westminster’s responsibility to feed information through to their own cities, but perhaps defining procedures was lost amongst the politicking and haste.
Burnham opposed Scottish independence in 2014 and has advocated for a single UK NHS (an attack on devolved powers which would leave Scottish health services more vulnerable to privatisation).
The irony is, now he’s a city mayor demanding to be treated like a national statesman.
Since tweeting an open letter to the First Minister (containing the gobsmacking request for Scottish funds to compensate disappointed Manchester holidaymakers), noticeably four hours after she said he was welcome to pick up the phone, Burnham has doubled down on hostility.
On Monday he retweeted a tweet claiming “SNP-run Scotland now looks increasingly unfriendly”, an inflammatory statement dancing on the edge of equating pandemic regulations with Anglophobia. All this can do is inspire bitter feeling.
I feel for the citizens of Manchester who are having a tough time of it; as a Glaswegian, I feel kinship with them, a fellow creative, energetic, post-industrial second city. Shutting down travel and commerce has been uneven and complex in its impact on people’s lives.
Every time there’s another delay to relaxing the rules, or new variant caution, it comes like a gut punch. We’re all at the end of our tether: when not deadly serious, it’s desperately boring. But pandemic decisions aren’t taken on the basis of friendship, courtesy, or politeness. They’re taken on the basis of risk to life.
Burnham knows this, but is reacting to the latest travel ban like it’s a deeply personal, social snub. Who has time or energy for such dramatics right now? But by now it’s an old routine. Here’s just another future Labour leader sticking two fingers up to the Scottish administration, trying to put them in their place to grandstand about their own unionist credentials. Same old, same old.
Covid is just grist to the mill. All that whining about daily Scottish Government briefings and the First Minister updating citizens before Boris got round to it. Currently nervy unionist campaigners are clutching their pearls about football rivalry at the Euro’s.
Scotland doesn’t answer to Manchester’s mayor. But it’s also not going to answer to a Labour party stamping their foot whenever Scottish decision-making is too independent for their liking. Sadly, that’s a trade-off that rising stars of the party seem willing to make every time they take to the media with the old ‘tough on Jocks’ routine.