It is not ’anti-Scottish’ to criticise SNP’s handling of Covid - Brian Monteith

There is a debate to be had about Scotland’s experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, presuming, of course, that debate is still allowed.
Nurses make final preparations during the completion of the construction of the NHS Louisa Jordan hospitalNurses make final preparations during the completion of the construction of the NHS Louisa Jordan hospital
Nurses make final preparations during the completion of the construction of the NHS Louisa Jordan hospital

I add that caveat because in a Scotland that is deeply damaged by the continuing constitutional straitjacket, anything debated by those, such as myself, who seek to shine light on Scotland’s scandalously bad experience will be branded as “anti-Scottish” – even by supposedly independent government advisers who should be encouraging discussion, not marginalising it.

The First Minister is apt to say that nothing she does or says regarding Covid-19 is at all political – a statement that is political in itself, for it seeks to claim the wholly undeserved moral high ground. Well, I too am just as entitled to make that claim, for nothing I write here is party political given I am apt to criticise all Scottish parties if not practically all politicians. I simply find the evidence the First Minister employs is often at odds with her claims of Scotland doing well – and, despite the many more difficult challenges that England faces, worse than Boris Johnson and Matthew Hancock are managing.

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I have no doubt when we have finally passed through the pandemic and proper enquiries are able to be held some excoriating evidence shall come to light that shall condemn decisions taken by both the Prime Minister and First Minister as, at the very least, ill-advised if not significantly wrong. What shall matter is to what extent either individual acted against advice that later proved to be sound or ignored evidence that pointed in a different direction from that chosen.

The possibility that we have also knowingly been told lies by politicians is also likely. It would not be the first time for either individual to be economical with the truth by offering, say, to die in a ditch for Brexit, or that Alex Salmond never claimed to have legal advice on an independent Scotland remaining in the EU. Such a breach of trust might only be forgiven if a public consensus accepts some extenuating justification that the truth might have caused unmanageable panic, disorder or a collapse in public morale.

The truth then, will eventually come out, I have no doubt.

We need not wait, however, on a public or parliamentary enquiry before establishing the truth, because our politicians must address these matters now – not to salve their conscience, not to work out what they must cover up to protect themselves – but because there remains the very real possibility there shall be a second spike of Covid-19 in the winter and that it could be worse than the first.

I am indebted to Chris Snowdon – the scourge of public health officials, junk science and mendacious research masquerading as evidence – that the government’s SAGE advisory committee had said back in March that even with a lockdown there would be a second wave of Covid-19 in the winter, and this advice has not changed.

If that possibility becomes real we have every right to ask of our political leaders what have they now established they got wrong in handling the first spike and therefore what would they do differently the second time around?

This is a very important question because it demands of our politicians – irrespective of party – to admit to errors of judgment, no matter how well intentioned, and show the courage to correct the error of their ways.

There are a few questions our First Minister in particular should consider; if we are given the all-clear and have returned to (relative) normality by November but in December an event held in a Glasgow hotel reveals a number of carriers of Covid-19 from, say, Barcelona have infected the staff and local residents – will the Scottish public be told?

Many people outside the event will have come into contact with these new Covid-19 carriers – will the local Glaswegians be informed so they can be tested? Will those infected have their movements tracked and their interactions with other people traced – and will the truth be made public?

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In an effort to create NHS capacity to handle a second spike will existing hospital patients be moved into the community – such as placed in care homes – without testing? And will those that have been tested be moved before the test results are known?

And for the Prime Minister, given we now know coronavirus reached us – not directly from China but second hand from those who had contracted it in Italy – shall we introduce immediate quarantining of international travellers who have come from or passed through a country that is established to be experiencing a second spike?

Further, given the lockdown was designed to “flatten the curve” so that time was bought to ensure the NHS had the capacity to deal with this particular pandemic – and recognising capacity was established and shall in many ways be quicker to re-establish a second time (especially if we do not let go the Nightingale hospitals and the testing regime available) – do we need the same type of lockdown?

The coming economic carnage is going to take years to recover from – would it not be possible to face a second wave of Covid-19 by isolating the most vulnerable people but allowing those under 45 to at least carry on working?

Should those suffering other life-threatening illnesses again be dismissed as unworthy of treatment and therefore condemning many of them to die?

The public needs to involved in many of these decisions, but that means the politicians being open and honest about what they got wrong – such as the numbers of people attending funerals – and would therefore do differently a second time.

To make that possible we also need our politicians to depoliticise the atmosphere around the Covid-19 pandemic and in Scotland that means the First Minister’s urge to compare any Scottish outcome with that of England.

As I have written before, Scotland’s Covid-19 statistics are not all they seem, in fact they are damning. The current rate of Covid-related deaths in Scotland is 763 per million compared with that of England being 848, but when the lived population density is taken into consideration (as it should be for a transmittable disease) the Scottish figures become worse, at 3.8 per million compared to England’s 1.6 per million.

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We need to identify the real successes – and failures, but most of all we need to be prepared to do it again but differently.

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