Edinburgh has tail-ended the disastrous Covid-19 policies of Westminster
It is a given that the coronavirus crisis has exposed the rotten, inhuman priorities of Boris Johnson’s Tory government at Westminster. It is less obvious that Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) administration at Holyrood also has difficult questions to answer.
Covid-19 has been allowed to ravage Scottish society in essentially the same way it has in the other countries of the UK.
On 22 April, the Scottish government reported that 1,062 people had died of the coronavirus (a figure which, like the UK government’s statistics, did not include people who had died in care homes).
The situation in Scotland’s care homes has been appalling. In early April, the owners of the Burlington Care Home in Cranhill, Glasgow confirmed that 13 residents had died at the facility over a seven-day period.
Later in April, the BerelandsCare Home in Prestwick, Ayrshire, reported that 20 residents had died in the course of two weeks. Meanwhile, Scotland’s NHS has faced similar shortages of Personal Protective Equipment
(PPE) and testing to those that have blighted Tory-run England. As of 22 April, the Scottish NHS had, according to the Holyrood government’s own figures, tested only 43,309 people out of a population of almost 5.5 million.
Despite health policy being a devolved power held at Holyrood, and despite the SNP administration having powers over many other social regulations, the Scottish government’s response to Covid-19 has barely differed from that of the Tories at Westminster. There have been some differences — Scotland’s nonessential building workers were sent home on 6 April, for example, and, on 21 April, the Scottish government announced £2,000 grants for recently self-employed people (those not covered by chancellor Rishi Sunak’s insufficient provisions) — but these have been peripheral.
Even Johnson’s ludicrous policy of allowing people to fly into the UK’s airports without so much as a test has gone unchallenged by Sturgeon. It wasn’t until 20 April that the SNP’s shadow home secretary Joanna Cherry wrote to Priti Patel proposing coronoavirus tests at airports.
The fact that the suggestion came from Cherry (who is widely considered to be a rival to Sturgeon for the SNP leadership), rather than the Scottish government, is significant. In general, the SNP administration in Edinburgh has tail-ended the disastrous Covid-19 policies of Westminster.
From the outset of the crisis the Scottish government has made great play of its involvement in meetings of the UK government’s Cobra emergency committee. Indeed, on 3 March, Sturgeon boasted, of a “four
nations’ Action Plan” between the UK government and the devolved administrations, under which “the Scottish government and NHS Scotland are well-prepared to deal with a coronavirus outbreak”.
The disaster that has unfolded in Scotland, as across the rest of the UK, proves that this assertion was, at best, wildly optimistic. When questions are asked about the appalling cost of the “four nations” plan —
which has been, at base, an attenuated version of the Tories’ original, quasi-eugenicist “herd immunity” policy — expect the SNP leadership to fall back on the argument that their “hands were tied” by being part of
The SNP, which has run the Scottish government in Edinburgh since 2007, presents itself as a progressive “civic nationalist” party whose politics are modelled on the centre-left, social democratic parties of Scandinavia. Questions over the continued, and desperate, inequalities that scar Scottish society, or the underfunding of the NHS in Scotland, are routinely batted away with the assertion that the Scottish government is restrained by being a devolved administration within the UK.
Only with independence, the argument goes, can the SNP achieve social equity. However, this argument only works up to a point where the Covid-19 crisis is concerned. By its own admission, the SNP administration was a willing partner to the “four nations” strategy led by the Tories at Westminster.
If Sturgeon believed that Johnson was wrong in his disastrous course, that he should have put in place a regime of rigorous testing and tracing, as in South Korea, or attempted to seriously suppress the spread of
the virus, as in New Zealand, it was her duty, as Scotland’s First Minister, to say so publicly.
Instead, the closest she came to criticising the UK Tory government was in expressing “concern” about reports that English companies had been instructed to direct PPE to the NHS in England only, rather than to Scotland.
The SNP’s lack of radicalism has been exposed by the coronavirus catastrophe. The party has failed utterly to provide a serious challenge to the Tories’ murderous plan to put the profits of big business before the lives of working-class people.