Covid, ambulance waiting times, energy bills and empty supermarket shelves have created a perfect storm that reveals how badly Scotland is governed – Christine Jardine MP
It is difficult at the moment not to feel that we are in the very eye of a momentous political and economic version of exactly that.
For 18 months, we had endured the seemingly unending and life-threatening waves of the pandemic, to the point where we seemed almost to have become inured to it.
We are braced – but not prepared – for the national and personal economic impact of the end of furlough, the Universal Credit uplift and business support.
And now we find that our energy bills could rocket, inflation is rising, the impact of Brexit is contributing to empty supermarket shelves, and the Scottish government is putting our travel and hospitality industries at a disadvantage to the rest of the UK.
That list was already challenging enough without the stark realisation over the past few weeks that our NHS, which has got us through this crisis, is now at breaking point.
I know that is a claim which politicians are often accused of making simply to weaponise a public service which is held in such specific and special regard by so many of us.
But sadly, all the evidence tells us that the claim is true. Both for the institution itself and the many courageous and tireless staff at its heart.
It must be tempting for those responsible for the well-being of the NHS to blame its current predicament on all the other elements of the storm. That somehow the crisis which has necessitated calling in the Armed Forces to support our ambulance service is purely the result of the circumstances we find ourselves in. That they can look to the example of our energy industry which is defending itself with evidence of an unusual lack of wind and solar resources and a fire on an interconnector.
But that would be to ignore the reality which we have all experienced in different ways over recent, pre-pandemic years. The damage done by the increasing centralisation of public services and decision-making in Scotland.
It is actually several years now since I spoke to a paramedic on his doorstep who told me he was increasingly concerned that he and his colleagues were working to a system which was unsustainable.
The concerns we raised at the time were lost in the general noise of a Scottish election campaign and filed by our opponents under their favourite ‘scaremongering’ tag.
Two months ago, as I waited more than four hours with a bleeding head wound in what the 999 operator told me was an emergency, the paramedic's words came back to me.
My anger grew as I listened to the First Minister’s painful recognition that her government must ask the army for help to deal with a crisis in which people were waiting 8, 12, even 40 hours for help.
I had originally put my own situation down, probably, to a miscommunication on my part, being in the Highlands on a break and in a remote area or perhaps an unusually busy day.
I did much the same this past week when I received a text from my GP to say that the practice was stretched by staff shortage so could I bear this in mind before making an appointment.
Then a friend told me they had turned up on time for her pre-arranged flu jag to discover the venue she had been instructed to attend was closed and locked.
Everywhere you look our most valued public service is fraying at the seams. And there is more than one burden falling on more than one set of shoulders.
Think for a moment about someone living alone, shielding for most of the past 500 days. It’s nearly October. Flu season.
Although restrictions have eased and the number of deaths is low, the next few months bring another threat.
Friends with chronic conditions tell me they feel a responsibility to not get ill. They worry that if their asthma or diabetes betrays them in the coming months, or they slip on an ungritted pavement, that help won’t come.
Dark nights and poorer weather are no longer a change of season. They are a threat. People are scared.
Over the past 18 months they needed us, their elected representatives to work together. To come together to find practical, tangible solutions to deliver what we all need.
Some of us still stand ready to be called in to those cross-party discussions on health, travel, hospitality and how to meet the spiralling costs of the pandemic.
Instead we continue to be treated to a daily farrago and game of “I can do it better”.
In the final analysis, the perfect storm is simply not being adequately navigated, partly because those at the helm had prepared so badly.
But the suspicion is becoming unavoidable that the desire to appear better than the UK government is creating wrong choices. Most recently, the decision to break ranks over foreign travel arrangements shows no cohesion and no desire for team work.
Practically, it will drive Scots to airports south of the Border while hurting ours and the travel industry in general. Politically, it looks like they can’t wait to throw the toys out of the proverbial pram. It achieves nothing.
And achieving nothing feels like the destination Scotland has arrived at. A&E waiting times are the worst on record for the fifth time in six weeks. Elderly constituents desperate for their flu vaccine have been left to travel to a vaccine hub too far away from their home. The Red Cross and the military are being deployed.
If only the government had realised prevention is better than cure.
Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West
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