FMQs sketch: Ditch the constitutional flag-waving and get on with vaccine roll-out

It is comfortable territory for both the Scottish Conservatives and the SNP to rely on any issue to be viewed through the lens of the constitution.

From vaccines plastered with little union flags to saltires added to life-saving public health advice, Scottish politicians during the pandemic have been most at home appeasing those among the public who believe the sight of a flag will change someone’s view on Scottish independence.

During First Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Ruth Davidson was the first to hoist her favourite flag as she reminded Scots the British army was British and available should the Scottish Government require help with the vaccine roll-out – an alternative to their plans of sitting in their barracks all day drinking good old fashioned (and British) Yorkshire tea.

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Nicola Sturgeon was asked about whether she would accept the offer to use the armed forces to help with the vaccine roll-out

The British leader of the Scottish Conservatives also repeated an offer from the British Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack, who on Tuesday offered the Scottish Government a helping hand to make sure Covid-19 vaccines were getting into the arms of British Scots as quickly as possible.

A noble offer, it wasn’t so transparently dripping in needless constitutional grease.

Groans were heard inside the chamber from the SNP benches and termed ‘derisory’ by Ms Davidson, but the response from the First Minister was lathered in deep-fried Scottishness.

We don’t need help from the British said Nicola Sturgeon – and after all, they need our help given the Scottish experience of having a lower prevalence of Covid-19, she added.

How dare the leader of the opposition suggest help from the Scottish armed forces is for the UK Government to offer to us, the First Minister continued.

“It’s not a favour from the Secretary of State for Scotland,” said Ms Sturgeon. They’re Scottish, they’re ours.

Not only that, but the Scottish vaccines that have been given to 98 per cent of Scottish care home residents is more than can be said of those down there, the First Minister added.

Unfortunately for those waiting for a life-saving jag, the facts are these.

Scotland’s vaccination programme is, so far, slower than the rest of the UK, but it is starting to speed up.

At current pace targets will still be missed without further acceleration.

We still don’t know whether the one million vaccinations by January was actually possible due to secrecy over supply data from the Scottish Government, a needless and unhelpful row enabled by UK Government briefings.

We also don’t know where the vaccines Scotland does have are in the supply chain or whether they will be in arms fast enough to stop Covid-19 impacting those most vulnerable.

Questions about these are being asked, but not without an exhausting, continual constitutional slant from opposition.

And the answers we get from the Scottish Government, if any, are clouded with starry-eyed hopes for independence.

Appealing to those who love to wave a flag of whatever colour pleases them most may be comfortable territory, but many will no doubt want politicians to ditch the flag-waving and get on with it, rather than rolling around in the constitutional mud.

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