SNP's Covid failings almost as bad as Boris Johnson's mistakes - Ian Murray

The melodrama playing out behind closed doors in Downing Street demonstrates the chaos at the heart of government.

A woman wears a mask amid coronavirus restrictions in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin

It may be a political ‘bubble’ story, but it matters because how a government communicates with the public is key – especially during a pandemic.

The media is right to hold UK ministers to account and generally it does a good job at that.

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We know every twist and turn of the No.10 saga, and we know all about the catastrophic failings of the government when it comes to its coronavirus response in England.

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That’s because the information is broadcast into living rooms across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And here in Scotland, the Scottish media fully holds the Scottish Government to account – despite Nicola Sturgeon’s desperate attempts to dismiss perfectly reasonable questions from journalists.

This week, the media here exposed the SNP’s utter failings with Test and Protect, for example. It’s performing five times worse than previously claimed.

But will people in England be aware of this debacle on Nicola Sturgeon’s watch or the jaw dropping soap opera of the Salmond inquiry? It’s unlikely.

When London-based journalists do ask Scottish politicians questions, their focus is instead nearly always on the constitution.

I get it myself – if I agree to an interview with a non-Scottish broadcaster, I’m always asked about independence.

Nicola Sturgeon revels in this, of course.

Instead of being grilled about her policy failings in Scotland, she gets to promote independence and pretend she is in opposition, not in power.

The impression has therefore been created that in Scotland the government has managed the coronavirus crisis more successfully than other parts of the UK.

“But they are doing well with Covid” is something a senior broadcast journalist in London said to me last week.

I had to remind him that perception was everything here, and Scotland had the third highest excess death rate in Europe, half of all deaths were in care homes, Test and Protect wasn’t working, and the business support was less generous than in England.

The nationalists also made exactly the same mistakes as the Tories on exams and students, I pointed out. He was aghast.

The reality is that the SNP’s Covid failings are almost as bad as Boris Johnson’s, regardless of how much spin is put on it.

There should be a consistent, forensic approach taken to scrutinising the Scottish Government’s record in office.

It rarely happens.

But that is what made the intervention by Andrew Neil last week on Politics Live all the starker, when he challenged SNP MP Alyn Smith on poverty in Scotland.

As always, Mr Smith stuck to the script and said everything would be wonderful in Scotland if we just had independence. Mr Neil hit back.

He rightly said places in the great city of Glasgow had a lower life expectancy that some sub-Saharan African countries and that the Scottish Government didn’t require one more additional power to the plethora they already have to do something about it.

Let’s not forget that Ms Sturgeon promised her priority would be to close the attainment gap in Scottish education.

She has failed, and the SNP has even withdrawn from international education comparisons so that Scotland’s declining performance is less visible.

Mr Smith’s reply to Mr Neil when presented with the facts was merely to suggest the veteran broadcaster must be tired and should go to sleep.

Making rational points and developing a clear argument on the issues that are prevalent in Scotland are too often dismissed with an insult.

And the SNP’s utter obsession with independence has become an obsession for the UK media too, and that means there is not a proper critique of the dreadful domestic policy failings.

The SNP is the third largest party in the House of Commons.

It gets a key slot in Prime Minister’s Questions and is allocated time on every debate and vote in Parliament. They get legal protections for media time.

With great responsibility should come great scrutiny.

It’s time the nationalists were held to the same standard by the UK media as all political parties at Westminster.

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