Covid: Nicola Sturgeon's insistence on doing the opposite to Boris Johnson is playing politics with a killer pandemic – Murdo Fraser MSP

What do you call someone who comes up with a solution to a problem, that it patently won’t solve? Someone who then uses a method to deliver that ineffective solution, that in itself is ineffective? A person who refuses an offer to use an effective method of delivering their solution, that solves nothing?

Under Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland had to have its own system for tracing Covid infections, causing cross-border problems (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

That is right. In keeping with the asserted autonomy of 21st century Scotland we have our own words for such a person. They are: “First Minister.”

Accounts vary of just how sociable Nicola Sturgeon was in her youth but something must have happened, or possibly more to the point never happened, that seems to make her dislike nightclubbers.

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Let’s leave for the moment the civil liberties issues that requiring citizens to have vaccine passports to enter nightclubs raises. For the insights that the fiasco, embarrassment, and humiliation that Ms Sturgeon’s attempts to bring them in provide are much more fascinating and, possibly, profound.

Now being vaccinated, even twice, does not stop a person from carrying or spreading the Covid virus. So the First Minister decided to try to stop people carrying the virus from spreading it on visits to a nightclub, by demanding that they carry proof of vaccination that in no way proved they weren’t carrying Covid and capable of spreading it. Read that again if you must, but it is true – and the truth does not alter from re-reading it.

There is limited value in vaccine passports in preventing the spread of Covid, that we know. But it gets better, or rather worse. For the method of introducing them didn’t work either. In her attempts at technological innovation, Ms Sturgeon employed a hapless app.

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Few who attempted to access the app in the hours after it was launched – and in the few hours before it became necessary to gain entry to nightclubs – were able to get it to work. No word of explanation, comfort or leadership was offered by the First Minister, who instead, without passport or mask, was seen at the Royal opening of Holyrood on the morning after they were required.

Now when it was suggested at Westminster, just a few weeks ago, that the UK government was thinking of introducing vaccine passports in England, the Scottish government said they wouldn’t be introduced here. Ms Sturgeon said that “ethical issues” had to be carefully considered. Her deputy, John Swinney, spoke eloquently against them, as did the Health Secretary Humza Yousaf.

Then the UK government decided not to introduce them anytime soon, and the First Minister? She announced their introduction in Scotland forthwith, without any real consideration of the practicalities, let alone the ethical issues.

Being thrawn is often seen as a common Scottish personality trait. It should not be a hallmark of our government. Yet that seems to be our First Minister’s mindset. It matters not whether a policy is beneficial to Scotland, ineffective or even detrimental, as long as it is different to Westminster, and hopefully fully the opposite.

Therefore the offer of a UK-wide method of delivering vaccine passports is rejected by the Scottish government even though theirs is ineffective, and comes at the cost of £600,000.

In the same way, Scotland could have adopted the same Test & Trace system as England, but we had to do our own thing with Test & Protect, causing avoidable issues for those moving across the Border. And rather than follow the simple, easy-to-remember “Hands-Face-Space” campaign operating in England, we had to have our own, confusing, and forgettable, ‘FACTS’.

Promoting Scottish exceptionalism – being different for the sake of it – isn’t helping the fight against Covid. In fact, it’s getting in the way, delivering poorer outcomes.

This is not the thinking of a government confident in Scotland. There is no innovation, no creativity. Just reaction without thought to what is being done south of the Border.

This is not the outlook that made Scotland the remarkable country we used to be.

We used to have the best legal system in the world because we chose ideas and philosophies from around the globe. We once boasted the finest schools on the planet because our forebears came up with uniquely Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. Our restless spirit of enterprise is marked across the world.

But today the zenith of Scottish leadership in the shape of Ms Sturgeon is to see what Westminster is doing, condemn it, and then try to do the opposite. Doubtless if the UK government decides to employ vaccine passports, the First Minister will either abandon the policy, or vaingloriously crow that Boris Johnson is following her lead.

Leaders are supposed to have vision, to look ahead, not over their shoulders. Nicola Sturgeon appears not to care about keeping her own house in order as long as she can look down on the neighbours.

Far from stopping the spread of Covid, recent evidence given to the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 committee suggests that vaccine passports may discourage the vaccine hesitant from taking the inoculation because it smacks of action by an authoritarian state they already don’t trust. No one wins when Nicola Sturgeon looks to score a personal political point over one of her demonised personal rivals at the cost of thought-through policy and public health.

A contorted need to twist whatever the UK government does and do the opposite, has nothing to do with what is in Scotland’s interests. What the saga of vaccine passports has confirmed is that, for this SNP government, doing things differently in Scotland is now a higher political priority than implementing policies that actually deliver results, even when we are dealing with something as serious as a killer pandemic.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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