Imagine Nike had held their conference in Carlisle and 70 guests took a trip across the Border. Then imagine one was found to have transmitted Covid-19 to another 25, providing by far the strongest intimation of the virus’s UK presence.
Let us further imagine UK ministers failed to inform the public of this outbreak of a disease, the deadliness of which was far from understood by the population at large.
When, ten weeks later, that revelation emerged through BBC television, howls of outrage would have been heard from Land’s End to John O’Groats – nowhere more feverishly than from the St Andrew’s House podium.
Rightly so. Whatever motivated the decision to maintain secrecy around the UK’s first mass outbreak of Covid-19, the need for it to be challenged and deeply, deeply regretted in the light of what transpired would be overwhelming.
But the outbreak occurred in Edinburgh and this is Scotland. So when it is finally brought into the public domain, the First Minister’s response is to deny there is anything remotely amiss, far less need for a “grown-up conversation”.
On the contrary. It is “highly politicised nonsense” to suggest otherwise. The thinnest veneer of an argument about “patient confidentiality” is sufficient. We are referred to a press release of 4 March, presumably assuming nobody will bother to look.
In fact, it contains not the slightest indication of what occurred in Edinburgh. The impression continued to be given that three cases had been identified in Scotland, two attributed to returns from Italy. In other words, that press release was highly misleading. Why? If Ms Sturgeon believes that the right to answers amounts to “highly politicised nonsense” then she is living in a bubble of impunity which is in urgent need of pricking.
Let me personalise this a little. On 8 March I attended the rugby at Murrayfield. As I wrote previously: “There was no public mood at this time that these events should be cancelled. So can we really blame politicians for not acting?”
In other words, I do not deal in wisdom after an event. The difference now is that nobody outside a magic circle knew such a dramatic event had occurred – and if they had, that knowledge would have been transformational. If I had known on 8 March there had been a mass outbreak of Covid-19 a few hundred yards up the road, I would not have been jostling with a pub-full of French rugby fans. I would not have been within a hundred miles and, anyway, the game would probably not have taken place.
I am not attracted to the argument that if this or that had been done, x thousand lives would have been saved. There are many imponderables and that is too heavy a burden to lay at any politician’s door.
What can be said with certainty, however, is that if the public had known of evidence on our doorstep that one individual had infected so many, the official response would have been vastly different – because public understanding would have been heightened so dramatically.
If there is some legitimate reason for having withheld that information, then let’s hear it.
In the fullness of time, the judicial inquiry into how Scotland has handled this pandemic will pursue the same question and many others. Jibes about “politicised nonsense” will not suffice.
And what now of Jason Leitch’s assertion on 11 March that he would cheerfully have gone to a concert with 12,000 people? It seemed odd at the time and is now incomprehensible, in the light of what had happened among 70 in Edinburgh.
In Scotland at present, we have an appalling care homes tragedy, an abysmal level of testing, with previous “targets” forgotten and now this revelation that the virus was among us before the public was allowed to know. These are circumstances that demand questions and answers which transcend politics but for which politicians must expect to be accountable – even in Scotland.
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