Covid Omicron outbreak in Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon has a point about devolution funding – Scotsman comment

Devolution has, by and large, been a successful endeavour with arguments for and against fading from public discourse after the 1997 referendum.

Nicola Sturgeon greets Boris Johnson on the steps of Bute House in Edinburgh in 2019 (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon greets Boris Johnson on the steps of Bute House in Edinburgh in 2019 (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

However, on occasion, unintended consequences crop up that are worthy of serious consideration.

Commenting on Twitter about funding for measures to tackle the Covid pandemic, Nicola Sturgeon pointed out that while four governments are responsible for protecting public health in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland “only when [the UK government] takes decisions for England is funding triggered, leaving the rest of us trying to protect health with one hand tied”.

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Some may see this as an argument for independence. However, it is also another example of why the Scottish and UK governments need to work together – and not just for the sake of nebulous ideas about ‘the good of the nation’, but for the health and survival of individual people.

In Scotland, the Omicron Covid variant, which made up 45 per cent of Covid cases reported on Thursday, is expected to become the dominant strain of the virus some time today, while in most places in England, it is still in the minority.

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This could, therefore, mean there is a case for more money to be made available to Scotland from the central UK budget – even on top of the recent record-high block grant – to tackle the virus and compensate businesses hit by restrictions.

But in order to make that case, the Scottish government needs to have a sufficiently good working relationship with Boris Johnson’s administration to be able to get a fair hearing.

If all the UK government hears is another argument for independence, another grievance laid at their door, they are unlikely to listen particularly well.

But Johnson and co must also recognise the need to consider special circumstances in Scotland fairly, in relation to Covid or other issues, if devolution as currently formulated is to function effectively.

The Prime Minister may regard devolution as a “disaster” – as he reportedly told a virtual meeting of Conservative MPs – because of the rise in support for nationalist parties in the years since Holyrood was established.

However, it currently is the only alternative to independence and so, from a unionist perspective, it needs to work in a practical sense, to save lives, livelihoods and the Union.

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