Boris is back and, with characteristic bluster and pooh-poohing of anything as dull as actual facts, insists many people will be looking at our “apparent success” and wondering if now is the time to ease the lockdown.
The UK seems on track to have one of the world’s worst death tolls from Covid-19; our elderly population in care homes has been devastated; and hundreds of key workers, many in the NHS, have already lost their lives. We are a nation consumed by fear, our mental health has been shattered, our dependence on benefits has sky-rocketed, and our economy is in meltdown.
How can any of this be deemed a success? Who, apart from our Prime Minister, could possibly describe it a success?
At the start of this crisis, the UK’s chief scientific adviser said fewer than 20,000 deaths would be a “good result”. With the official figure now at 26,000 and estimates that easily double that, the reality is that, no matter how politicians try to spin it, in terms of how we have dealt with this virus and how many have been left dead in its wake, we are among the very worst in Europe, if not the world.
There is predictable outrage among her fan base that Nicola Sturgeon isn’t included in commentary about how well other female leaders such as Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel, Mette Frederiksen and Erna Solberg have coped during this crisis.
However, the reality is that, despite her leadership team being near all-women – until the departure, that is, of her CMO, who exited pursued by withering accusations of hypocrisy and arrogance – Sturgeon’s record in this pandemic is largely akin to Boris Johnson’s record. And that isn’t a good one.
It may seem pointless now with so many dead to ask the counter-factual question: What if Scotland had done something different? What if Sturgeon had followed other smaller countries, like Denmark, Norway and New Zealand, who also, coincidently, are led by women, and gone hard, and gone fast?
Sturgeon has dealt with public health crises before. She has done that well. And, while it’s true that now you can sense an impatience in the First Minister to go it alone, and in small steps she is doing that and, predictably, being criticised for being perceived to be making some kind of constitutional point in even advising the wearing of face masks, she is way behind the vital testing curve.
When she led on fighting swine flu or even on the Legionnaire’s outbreak, she had the benefit of Sir Harry Burns as her chief medical officer. His advice on a global pandemic has been simple from the start: “Test, test, test, trace and isolate.”
In 2011, Professor Anne Glover was Scotland’s chief scientific adviser and, amid the response to the Fukushima nuclear explosion that threatened a global health disaster, she attended both Cobra and Sage meetings on behalf of the Scottish Government. Her message was, and is, “follow the science”.
Of course, it is easy with hindsight, but I can’t help but wonder in a parallel universe where Sturgeon and Scotland would be now if she’d had Burns and Glover still by her side.
Perhaps then there would be no room for any slight regret that our First Minister, informed by the science, followed her instinct.