Coronavirus: Why it’s a mistake to turn Catherine Calderwood into a pariah – leader comment

Dr Catherine Calderwood, who resigned as Chief Medical Officer, must not be turned into a pariah

Dr Catherine Calderwood resigned as Scotland's Chief Medical Officer after it emerged she had been visiting her family's second home in Fife
Dr Catherine Calderwood resigned as Scotland's Chief Medical Officer after it emerged she had been visiting her family's second home in Fife

Dr Catherine Calderwood’s resignation as Chief Medical Officer was inevitable. The impression given by her visits to her family’s second home in Fife was that there was one rule for the public, but another for her, or that perhaps the restrictions should not be taken too seriously.

In such a serious public health emergency, the clarity and consistency of the message from government is absolutely vital, almost as vital as the advice itself. We must all act in accordance with a single plan to save as many lives as possible and if people start deviating from it and making up their own rules, the strategy will collapse.

However, it is clear that Dr Calderwood is a highly respected medical expert and that, while her replacement may be equally capable, she will be missed. Some of the reactions to the revelation that she had been to her home in Earlsferry on two weekends were almost ridiculously over the top.

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Good Morning Britain: Nicola Sturgeon says Calderwood “made a big mistake”

Several commentators appeared to forget something that most of us know to be true – we all make mistakes, act in ways we know aren’t quite right or about which we perhaps have a nagging doubt. It’s a very human thing to do.

Doubtless there are some among the current chorus of disapproval who have made unnecessary trips, which they may have decided – perhaps being generous to themselves – would probably be okay. And their trips could have come with the same amount of risk of spreading coronavirus as Calderwood’s. The problem was her position and the importance of the message she was sending out to the nation to stay at home.

The Scottish Government’s initial statement, which suggested the trip was a one-off when in fact there had been two, may not have helped Calderwood’s situation. But the fact that Nicola Sturgeon tried to hang on to her, despite the political damage, shows what she thinks of Calderwood’s qualities as a medical adviser.

And those qualities should not be wasted. Scotland cannot afford to discard talented people, particularly in the current situation. She made a serious error of judgement but not one that should make her a pariah, so she should be forgiven for her human failings, and brought back into the fold in a new role. As for the rest of us, we should learn from Calderwood’s poor example and realise just how strictly we must adhere to the lockdown restrictions.

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