Covid crisis: Boris Johnson must show he's Prime Minister of whole UK by helping Scotland – Ian Murray MP

Neither the Scottish nor UK government has received accolades for their response to the coronavirus outbreak. Now they need to work together to improve, writes Ian Murray MP

Boris Johnson applauds NHS staff and carers outside 10 Downing Street (Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
Boris Johnson applauds NHS staff and carers outside 10 Downing Street (Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

This weekend Boris Johnson will set out the UK Government’s plans to start bringing the country out of lockdown.

The success of that plan stands or falls on the ability to test and track Covid-19 so we can identify where it emerges and stop it in its tracks.

You might be told to go into quarantine because you’ve had contact with an infected person.

But it’s only by being tested that you’ll know whether you can go back to work or not.

Our NHS and social care heroes need to know whether they have the disease or not, if they're to keep staffing our hospitals and care homes.

Before a vaccine is available, a widespread testing regime is the only way we can get ahead of this disease, find out who has it, and isolate it before it spreads like wildfire.

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Without it, a return to lockdown is inevitable. We will be asking everyone to have a vaccine, so why not offer a test to as many people as possible prior to a vaccine being available?

It’s therefore deeply disappointing that we are still not seeing the level of delivery we need from either the UK or Scottish governments.

The UK Government’s much-hyped plan to deliver 100,000 tests a day is still falling short.

And in Scotland, the situation is – if anything – worse. Only around 1.5 per cent of the Scottish population has been tested to date.

Nicola Sturgeon has set out a plan to increase levels to 15,500 tests by the end of May, but this is lacking in ambition - and will not be enough if we truly want to provide testing for all who need it.

That is the conclusion from a major new paper by the thinktank Our Scottish Future, produced in consultation with health and testing experts.

The practical reality is the Scottish Government hasn’t done anything meaningfully different to the UK Government.

Setting low targets won’t actually lead to the kind of ramping up that Scotland needs.

As the report sets out, the First Minister should set her sights on a properly ambitious plan to ensure that 800,000 Scottish workers on the coronavirus frontline – in the NHS, care homes, supermarkets, and construction sites – get access to regular, routine testing so they know whether or not they are infected and need to self-isolate. We will work constructively with the Scottish Government to achieve that goal.

There is no point in just testing those with symptoms while carriers without symptoms continue to spread the virus unabated.

It may seem an impossible task to sort this out, given where we are. But the Scottish and UK governments can do so, if they work together.

The Scottish Government has day-to-day control of the NHS and the response to the coronavirus emergency. That should continue.

And it must take responsibility for getting a grip of the tragedy unfolding in Scotland’s care homes and the debacle over adequate PPE and mass testing.

Being part of the UK club also means we can call upon the expertise and capacity of our wider country.

Boris Johnson must show he is the Prime Minister of the whole UK, not just England, by responding to Scotland’s needs.

And Nicola Sturgeon must make the most of the benefits of a massive supply of knowledge and science on our doorstep.

The paper by Our Scottish Future sets out six key asks of both governments to dump the blame game and cooperate with one another. They are practical, reasonable ideas that must now get a response.

Seven weeks after lockdown, neither of our two governments in London or Edinburgh are getting the accolades that some foreign countries are getting for their response to the coronavirus outbreak. That tells its own story.

For the sake of people in Scotland, it’s time both our governments learnt the value of solidarity and cooperation – blending the best of Scottish and UK-wide expertise and knowledge to boost testing and beat the virus.

Lives depend on this. It’s time to act, together.

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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