The stark truth about Covid and the SNP

The stark truth about Covid and the SNP

by Dr Bruce Halliday
article from Thursday 10, December, 2020

THERE IS A PERCEPTION in Britain that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have handled the Coronavirus pandemic well. Support for Scottish independence has, apparently, been strengthened by this belief. Nicola Sturgeon has dominated the SNP’s response to Coronavirus with daily televised broadcasts. But, in reality, has Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy for Coronavirus been successful? There is much to examine including secrecy, cover ups, deaths, reckless behaviour, incitement to hatred, muddled messaging and civil liberty abuses. 

  Coronavirus in Scotland began with an SNP cover up. The first case of Coronavirus in Scotland occurred in an Edinburgh hotel at a Nike conference on the 26th and 27th of February. At least 25 people linked to the Nike conference, including eight in Scotland, contracted Covid-19. Unbelievably the SNP kept this secret. The tens of thousands of fans who attended the rugby match between Scotland and France on the 8th Marching Edinburgh were unaware they were at increased risk from Coronavirus. 

The February outbreak only became public knowledge after a BBC Scotland Disclosure documentary in May – a scandalous three months after the event. Nicola Sturgeon claimed the outbreak was kept secret to protect patient confidentiality, but this is not convincing – there was no need to name anyone who was infected. The people of Scotland should have been told by Nicola Sturgeon that Covid-19 had arrived. The cover up was bizarre, showing poor judgement. 

The SNP is always keen to highlight when Scotland appears to perform better than England.Yet it was this episode in Edinburgh that is believed to have resulted in Coronavirus arriving in the North East of England as early as 4th March. In July Nicola Sturgeon bragged that Scotland’s Covid prevalence was five times less than England’s. She was censured at the time by the Office for Statistics Regulation for using incomplete, unpublished data. Her hubris at the time is laid bare as recent figures in November have shown Scotland to have had a higher number of death certificates mentioning Covid-19 than England. 

 

Another way to gauge a country’s performance in combatting Coronavirus is to look at excess mortality. Excess mortality is a term used in epidemiology and public health that refers to the number of deaths from all causes under normal conditions so that it is possible to identify deaths during a crisis that are above and beyond what we should have expected to see. For a “civic” nationalist party the SNP has an unhealthy obsession with England that blinkers its outlook; but broadening our gaze, how does Scotland’s performance against Covid-19 compare with other similarly sized European countries? The graph below shows excess mortality for countries in Europe with a population between four million and ten million. 

 

The results demolish any claim that Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy has been successful in combatting Coronavirus. 

An important part of the reason for Scotland’s poor results has been the high number of deaths in care homes. Early in the pandemic hospitals were under pressure to free up beds for the expected flood of patients. This resulted in elderly patients with Coronavirus being moved to nursing homes. A total of 338 patients with a diagnosis of Covid-19 were discharged from Scottish hospitals into care homes in the three months from March 2020 according to Public Health Scotland. A similar practice had taken place in England but was halted by Health Secretary Matthew Hancock on 15th April. Although the Scottish Government knew of Hancock’s decision it did not end the practice in Scotland until 21st April. Reports after that date established that while patients were now being tested some were still being moved to care homes before the results were known. 

A report by the University of Stirling found that 65 per cent of care homes in Scotland had cases of Covid-19 compared to 44 per cent in England, 37 per cent in Northern Ireland and 33 per cent in Wales. 

No surprise then that Scotland has been found to have the highest rate of Covid-19 related deaths in care homes of any part of the UK. The Public Health Scotland report recorded a total of 1915 Covid-19 related deaths in care homes in Scotland in the three months from March. A report in August found that 47 per cent of overall deaths linked to Covid-19 occurred in care homes in Scotland, compared to 42 per cent in Northern Ireland, 30 per cent in England and 28 per cent in Wales. 

Important lessons need to be learned from the SNP’s failure to protect the frail and elderly in Scotland’s care homes. A full judge-led public inquiry will be essential to highlight the errors made. 

With the ever changing and bewildering rules and regulations governing bubbles, tiers, route maps and lockdowns there will be few among us who have not broken the Covid rules in some minor way. But the transgressions of Margaret Ferrier SNP MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West were of a different magnitude. It is worth reminding ourselves of her behaviour, as she remains an MP despite coming under pressure from constituents, Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford to resign. The speaker of the House of Commons has called her conduct “bad behaviour” and “absolutely disgraceful and reckless to all of us”. 

Ferrier developed symptoms on Saturday September 26th and took a Covid test. She should then have self-isolated until the result was known. But she visited a gym, a shop and a beauty salon. On Sunday she attended a mass at church. On Monday she travelled the 345 miles from Glasgow to London by train. She attended the House of Commons and spoke in a debate. Ferrier discovered her test was positive later that evening. 

Who among us would then have jumped on a train on Tuesday 29 September for the 345 mile return trip to Glasgow, knowing we had Coronavirus? Ferrier had been given permission by the SNP to travel home after she told the SNP a family member was unwell. 

Ferrier has resisted pressure to resign despite widespread criticism and anger in her constituency. Police Scotland are conducting a glacially slow investigation of the train journeys and have still to report. Parliamentary authorities are waiting for the outcome of the police investigation before they can act. If they suspend Ferrier this could lead to a recall petition and a by-election. With George Galloway waiting in the wings perhaps the SNP leadership would rather avoid that by-election? 

The SNP was quick to attack Dominic Cummings after his alleged breaking of the rules and Margaret Ferrier herself criticised Dominic Cummings for undermining public trust in lockdown regulations. The hypocrisy is astounding, but then, the SNP is not known for taking responsibility for its actions. This is the political party who made Humza Yousaf Justice Minister after he was fined, while Transport Minister, for driving a car without insurance, and Derek MacKay remains an SNP MSP despite losing the Finance post after it was discovered he appeared to be grooming a 16 year-old-boy. 

Rather than responding as one country to the threat of Coronavirus there has been ongoing tension between the SNP and the UK government. One very small outbreak of Coronavirus near Gretna led to nationalists becoming excited about the prospect of the border closing – a Scottish nationalist dream scenario. 

Nicola Sturgeon made a series of comments in response to the Gretna outbreak. She gave the impression that she would relish the prospect of closing the border between Scotland and England. 

Nationalists were unhappy after Boris Johnson insisted “there is no border between Scotland and England”, during a row over Coronavirus quarantines. Nicola Sturgeon refused to rule out border checks on visitors from England if virus cases showed signs of a resurgence. 

Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish government health adviser Professor Devi Sridhar made comments that the diverging Coronavirus lockdown policies of Scotland and England could create a “high risk environment for the virus to spread”. 

The tension and inflammatory rhetoric resulted in disgraceful scenes at Berwick several days after the Gretna outbreak. A mob of aggressive Scottish nationalists, some in hazmat suits, shouted and swore at motorists travelling from England, calling them “plague carriers” and telling them to “stay the f**k out”. 

The Gretna outbreak had been very small but the geographical location near England led to excited speculation about the border closing; excitement which Nicola Sturgeon stoked. Since then we have had much larger outbreaks of Coronavirus in Scotland, particularly in SNP-supporting Glasgow, but not a cheep from Nicola Sturgeon about closing Glasgow off to protect the rest of us. This compared badly against a local lockdown previously introduced in Aberdeen for three weeks, but Glasgow’s higher Covid infection rate brought no similar restrictions. Funny that. 

An important component in the fight against Coronavirus has been public health messaging. The release of new Covid messaging from the British government constitutes a public health emergency for Nicola Sturgeon. A committee is convened at speed, the thesaurus is thumbed, and work begins on the SNP response. We must be different. And so it was that Nicola Sturgeon criticised the UK government advice to “Stay alert” as vague and imprecise and countered with the fuzzier “Stay safe”. 

But Nicola Sturgeon was not finished there. At the present time the UK government’s main message is Hands. Face. Space. Short, concise, easy to remember. Scotland’s public health message is FACTS, one of the worst public health messages Britain has ever seen. It has been in use since June and yet a recent survey by civil servants, of people who were aware of the slogan, showed that 61 per cent knew the F, 35 per cent the A, 37 per cent the C, 41 per cent the T, and 40 per cent the S. How many do you know? The solution is at the end of the article. 

Nicola Sturgeon has used the pandemic for her own political advantage. She has been given an unprecedented one-hour slot every day by the BBC to broadcast to Scotland about Coronavirus. Initially, when the virus was new this was justified but Boris Johnson stopped the daily broadcasts long ago. The BBC tried to bring Nicola Sturgeon’s broadcasts to an end but were bullied in to continuing them by the SNP. Nicola loves to keep herself centre stage and uses the platform to comment on Brexit, the US elections, Trump – making them a party political broadcast, not just a public information service. Journalists are tightly managed and only allowed one question, with no follow up, but of late Sturgeon has been showing signs of impatience at ‘impertinent questions’ from journalists, with theatrical eye-rolls and grimacing. Opposition politicians argue Nicola Sturgeon should be making her statements in parliament where they can be scrutinised and questioned in more depth –and still broadcast, but with no advantage to one party or another. 

An authoritarian political party, the SNP was quick to exploit the pandemic by trying to abolish trial by jury. The suggestion was met with horror. The president of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association’s response to the SNP’s plans was unequivocal. He said, “The proposals in this bill include attacks on principles that have been built over 600 years and are at the cornerstone of Scotland’s criminal justice system and democratic tradition”. After widespread criticism the SNP dropped its plan. 

Jeanne Freeman, ex-communist and SNP Cabinet Secretary for Health, attempted to suspend the Freedom of information law during the pandemic. The Freedom of Information Unit commented that the blanket suspension of Freedom of Information duties was “a substantial violation of ministers’ commitment to openness and transparency”. 

It is only because of Freedom of Information that some illuminating detail about the pandemic is now known. The Sunday Post discovered that Covid-positive elderly patients were transferred to care homes; and the Sun discovered that a “coding error” was responsible for overestimating the number of people contacted within 24-hours of testing positive for the virus. Neither issue had been made public by the SNP in parliament or during any of Nicola Sturgeon’s daily Covid broadcasts. 

There is no doubt Coronavirus has been an unprecedented challenge to all governments around the world, requiring difficult decisions to be taken. Nicola Sturgeon has dominated the SNP’s response to Coronavirus in Scotland. Relatively little has been heard from the Cabinet Secretary for Health Jeanne Freeman and it was a shock to us all in Scotland to discover there is a Cabinet Secretary for Older People: Shirley-Ann Somerville was mute as hundreds of older people died in our care homes. 

What should have been a united effort across the United Kingdom to defeat a deadly virus was instead used by Nicola Sturgeon to foster division and grievance. 

This culminated in the disgraceful scenes at the border, with aggressive Scottish nationalists abusing motorists, presumed to be English, driving in to Scotland. 

The ultimate objective, to avoid the loss of life, sadly, has been unsuccessful. For our size Scotland’s excess mortality is the highest in Europe. Our elderly in care homes were exposed unnecessarily to Coronavirus by disastrous discharges from hospital, resulting in many deaths. 

In addition, secrecy, cover ups, dodgy data, Margaret Ferrier, amateurish public health messaging, attacks on our civil liberties – all down to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. 

The verdict is clear. Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy against Coronavirus has been a failure. Anyone who supports Scottish independence because of Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of Coronavirus should think again.

FACTS: F-Face coverings A-Avoid crowded places C-Clean your hands regularly T-Two metre distance S-Self isolate and book a test if you have symptoms

Dr Bruce Halliday is a practising GP and Health spokesman for Alliance for Unity 

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