Amid Covid crisis, Nicola Sturgeon cannot simply rely on being better than Boris Johnson – Christine Jardine MP

I have found myself watching the First Minister with a mixture of admiration and frustration.

Monday, 12th October 2020, 12:30 pm
Boris Johnson's bluster cannot compare to the acumen displayed by Nicola Sturgeon, but is this just style over substance? (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
Boris Johnson's bluster cannot compare to the acumen displayed by Nicola Sturgeon, but is this just style over substance? (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

Admiration that she is so undeniably adept at dealing with the public-facing aspect of passing on some of the most difficult political messages most of us have ever had to hear.

Frustration that, as soon as good taste allows, that acumen will be focussed not on what the country needs most at this moment, but on using it to fulfil a political ambition based on a false premise.

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Even as I typed those words, I am preparing for the onslaught of criticism claiming that I am doing Scotland down.

But no I am not. It is precisely the opposite.

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It is because I love my country and want all of our talented public servants – including the First Minister – to be focussed on getting us out of this life-and-livelihood threatening crisis that the frustration I mentioned is growing.

It was abundantly clear from the First Minister’s extremely professional presentations in recent days that we are far from out of the Covid-19 woods.

What was less clear however is whether the action her administration has taken so far has put them on top of the surge or whether what we are getting is simply a well-presented package.

If one were to be flippant, one might ask whether we were getting the political service version of Paul Hollywood’s infamous put-down on Bake Off: All style and no substance.

In the initial stage of this crisis, we were all willing to give those in charge as much leeway as possible and listen while they explained what they were trying to do.

They were, after all, dealing with unforeseen and unprecedented circumstances.

But as it has progressed that has ceased to be an excuse.

Warm words are nothing to the children who can’t see their parents in care homes or the students pressed up against their windows, encouraged to take up their university places after the exam chaos without being warned of the potential implications.

What we need now is transparency about the evidence, clarity in regulations and clear logic to the strategy.

We have evidence of numbers but what we do not have is any evidence of the impact of behaviour on those numbers if we close all the pubs.

The Scottish Government is offering none of the above.

They appear to have abandoned the much-publicized route map, and if that is the case we deserve to know why.

To take just one example. I listened carefully to the First Minister and heard nothing to prohibit using the October break to get away, except of course that I live in the Lothian Health Board area and I am advised not to leave it… unless I have to.

My email inbox, social media and WhatsApp chatter all reflected the same uncertainty about exactly what it is we are supposed to be doing.

What constitutes need? And who will be the judge? Am I OK to travel to parliament because I need to be there to represent my constituents? Or should I put my own health first?

Indeed the Government didn’t seem entirely clear about some of their advice themselves, or indeed what constitutes a pub and what is a café?

One day all licensed premises in the affected areas were to close. The next they could stay open, as long as they didn’t sell alcohol. Oh and they can do take-away.

And then there is the ever-present and offensive claim that at least we are better than England. No, we are not.

I fully appreciate why it suits the nationalists’ long-term message for Boris Johnson to continue to receive the well-deserved criticism which is being heaped upon him at the moment.

But combining that with false claims of superior handling of the crisis to promote going it alone just doesn’t work for me.

There is little discernible difference in either the steps taken or the outcomes north and south of Gretna.

The graphs showing the number of reported cases in Scotland over the past 10 months are an almost reflection of those in the other three nations of the United Kingdom.

The only perceptible difference most of the time appears to be in our reaction to the main player.

That undeniable empathy and adeptness which Nicola possesses, wins every time over Boris’s bluff and bluster. But is that enough? Is it sufficient to put a PR sticking plaster on a record and say; “Well she’s not Boris”?

I don’t believe so. Surely, we should judge people on what they do, rather than who they are not?

If Covid wasn’t happening, it is fair to assume we would be talking about the state of Scottish education, missed waiting-time targets in the NHS and whether the First Minister should fire her husband.

We are living in extraordinary times which require extraordinary leadership. But leadership is about more than the presentation. More than not being Boris. More than pointing out other’s failures and distracting from the real issues. He will after all not be Prime Minister forever.

Surely what all reasonable people want at the moment is a strategy that will protect their health and support their employment through this crisis?

It is clear that the calm over the summer was simply the prelude to the storm that we will face in the winter.

I do not doubt the commitment of either of our governments or indeed any of the opposition parties to steering the country through the storm to the best achievable outcome, even though we might disagree about the methods.

None of us can be sure how long that will take or how severe the damage will be in the meantime.

But I hope that the First Minister will ignore all appeals to the contrary and focus her attention on the only problem at the moment which matters.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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