People in Scotland trust in the Scottish Government to keep them safe from the coronavirus in a way that they don’t trust Boris Johnson.


First published in July 2020.


Yesterday the Scottish Government announced that in the previous 24 hours there had been 1 death from Covid-19 in the country. There was one death in Wales, and two in Northern Ireland. There were 133 deaths overnight in England. If the death rate in England was the same as it was in Scotland at the moment, there would only be about 12 deaths daily from the virus. Instead there are ten times as many.

The Scottish Government assessment is that the prevalence of the virus among the population is five times lower in Scotland than it currently is in England which means that you are five times more likely to encounter an infected person in England in a shop or a public space than you are in Scotland. So guess where pubs, bars, restaurants, and cinemas have reopened today and where people can travel freely and associate in greater numbers. Why, that would be England.

The Wetherspoons chain, whose multi-millionaire Brexit backing boss told staff at the beginning of lockdown that they would remain unpaid until he received financial aid from the government and that they could apply for jobs with Tesco, is reopening with the help of a £48 million loan from the British Government.

Tim Martin told staff they would remain unpaid until he received financial aid from the government and they could apply for jobs with Tesco. / The Independent

We learned today that there have been more deaths from Covid-19 in the UK than even in the UK Government’s own worst case prediction. In the scenarios modelled by the British Government’s scientific advisory body SAGE said in March this year that 20,000 deaths between March and September 2020 would be a “good” outcome. It’s now been revealed that in the same document SAGE warned that in a worst case scenario there could be 50,000 deaths from Covid-19 over the same period.

It’s only the beginning of July but the official death toll is currently at 44,000 and estimates from the Office of National Statistics show that the UK had already exceeded 50,000 deaths by June. Other reliable estimates which measure so-called excess deaths claim that the true figure is already well in excess of 60,000.

Despite the undoubted fact that the Scottish Government, after a rocky start, has got a far better handle on dealing with the epidemic than the British Government, the Scottish Conservatives are not at all happy. Admittedly that’s a statement of the obvious, saying that the Scottish Conservatives are not happy with the Scottish Government is a bit like saying that Lex Luthor is unhappy with Superman. They’d be unhappy if the Scottish Government was doing poorly, and they’d be unhappy if the Scottish Government was doing well. But then being a British nationalist in Scotland is very much an exercise in being miserable.

What’s particularly getting the goat of some of the Tories just now is that the Scottish Government perversely and obstinately insists on holding daily press conferences presented by the First Minister where she presents the latest information to the public about the virus in Scotland and takes questions from the media. According to Scottish Twitter’s favourite cause of face palming, Murdo Fraser, it’s high time that the daily party political broadcast stopped. It’s free publicity for the SNP, he harrumphed, in search of free publicity for himself.

Scottish Government COVID-19 press conference at St. Andrew's House, Edinburgh with the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. / Flickr - Scottish Government

The complaint is not unrelated to the way in which the public accessibility of the First Minister is boosting public support and trust in the Scottish Government, while the Scottish public is increasingly distrustful and disenchanted with Johnson’s administration in Westminster. Since Murdo can’t actually do anything to make Boris Johnson even halfway competent, all he’s got left is carping about someone who’s doing their job a whole lot better. Actually, no one could help Boris Johnson to come within several light years of basic competence, not even Spock with a warp drive. It would be like expecting a sewer rat to give classes in dental hygiene. You can be quite certain that had the First Minister done what Murdo was pouting about, and had stopped her daily press briefings, Murdo would have been the first to accuse her of hiding from public scrutiny. See what I mean about Scottish Tories always being miserable?

Boris Johnson has long since given up any pretence of giving enough of a toss to deliver weekly press conferences, never mind daily ones. He can barely be bothered enough to do anything other than go through the mumbling motions at Prime Minister’s Questions once a week in the House of Commons. There is now a suggestion that the British Government will be recruiting a media professional to deliver its messaging given that Boris Johnson is incapable of starting a coherent sentence never mind finishing one. Many of us in Scotland, and indeed elsewhere will be wondering why they need to do that. Doesn’t the BBC already have that job?

Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions. / Instagram - UK Parliament

What’s really worrying the Conservative branch office in Scotland is that the Scottish Government isn’t just more effective in dealing with the virus, it’s also far more effective in its public messaging. That’s why, according to a poll published this weekend, some three quarters of people in Scotland would support restrictions on people crossing the border between Scotland and England should it be necessary for public health. Even 45% of Conservative voters in Scotland were supportive of the idea. People in Scotland, even those currently opposed to independence, trust in the Scottish Government to keep them safe from the virus in a way that they don’t trust Boris Johnson and are quite prepared to see checks on the Scottish border in order to ensure public safety. That’s anathema to the Conservatives. Their dire warnings about border checks as a consequence of independence lose a lot of their effect if there are border checks while Scotland is still a part of the UK.

Scotland is slipping away from Westminster’s grasp. The people of Scotland are transferring their trust and confidence from Westminster to Holyrood to deal even with “the big stuff”. That’s an important and historic shift. For all that the independence movement frets about the process of how we get a referendum it’s the change of public attitudes on the ground which is really important. Scotland is becoming a country which is confident in its own ability to look after itself, to solve its own problems, and to take care of its people. People in Scotland, even those who are still not fully on board with independence, no longer feel that Scotland needs Westminster to look after it. Indeed, increasingly they are coming to the opinion that Westminster is endangering us, holding us back, and acting as a brake on our potential. It’s that seismic shift in public attitudes and Scottish confidence which will take us to independence.

Remember the saying, where there’s a will there’s a way. It’s only now that Scotland is becoming a country where there’s a will.🔷


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🗳️ Murdo Fraser

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[This piece was originally published in Wee Ginger Dug’s blog and re-published in PMP Magazine on 4 July 2020, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - Boris Johnson. | 3 July 2020. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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