How SNP and Tories are failing on Covid – Ian Murray MP

As Boris Johnson tries to spin his way out of trouble, the SNP is still focused on independence and not what should be their priority, the coronavirus pandemic, writes Ian Murray MP.

Thursday, 24th September 2020, 7:30 am
Until there's a coronavirus vaccine, testing is vital (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Until there's a coronavirus vaccine, testing is vital (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

YESTERDAY marked a grim milestone in our battle against coronavirus.

With 486 new cases in Scotland – the highest daily total yet – it’s clear Scotland is now in the grip of a second wave.

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The figures are a stark reminder of why new restrictions are necessary.

We have come a long way since Scottish nationalists were screaming at people at the border and were holding Scotland up as an international example of best practice.

That was always deeply insulting given we recorded the third-highest excess-death rate in Europe, testing levels were one of the worst in the world, and care home deaths shamed the nation.

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The new restrictions will make life extremely difficult for us all, but action is necessary to prevent further deaths.

In return, people deserve action from their governments too.

Unfortunately, both in Scotland and across the UK, those in charge continue to fall short.

More than half a year has passed since the World Health Organisation urged nations to “test, test, test”.

Yet Boris Johnson is losing control of the UK’s testing system.

As Keir Starmer said in the Commons yesterday, there are children currently forced to miss school because they were awaiting a test.

Boris Johnson didn’t have an answer and resorted to political spin that “we’re going to go up to 500,000 daily tests”. But that’s the ‘capacity’ target – not the actual number of tests.

Both governments have resorted to spin rather than substance during this crisis, with the UK Government particularly bad at it.

For some in the SNP, such as fellow columnist Angus Robertson, being better at PR is all that matters.

“What really matters is public opinion,” he told the BBC. Not the care home deaths scandal, the cover-ups, or the myriad of other Scottish Government failures.

(Not that it was the most callous comment he has made recently – that was his remark about the death of elderly voters being positive as they were likely to oppose independence.)

As has long been clear, without a working vaccine, the only way out of the pandemic is through an effective test-and-trace strategy.

The problems with testing are not as acute in Scotland as other parts of the UK, but when it comes to contact tracing there is now a major crisis.

The SNP Government promised there would be 2,000 contact tracers. Yet it came to light on Tuesday – buried on a busy news day – that less than half have been recruited.

Without tracers, we will never get out of the cycle of lockdowns.

That’s why I say people expect action from their governments too.

Action which must include measures from the UK Government to prevent the projected catastrophic job losses. For months Labour has repeatedly called on ministers not to withdraw furlough, and it’s encouraging that the Chancellor is now looking at options.

And action which must include economic interventions from the Scottish Government also. We need a quality Jobs Guarantee Scheme, funds to support cash-strapped health boards and a fairer settlement for councils such as Edinburgh, which has been starved of money for too long.

Earlier this month, the SNP found time for a second independence referendum Bill in Parliament.

It was the wrong priority. The only priority, more than ever, is forging a path through this pandemic.

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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