'Stay Alert?' Johnson trusts the people – Sturgeon does not

'Stay Alert?' Johnson trusts the people – Sturgeon does not

by Ewen Stewart
article from Tuesday 12, May, 2020

THE UNEASY STAND-OFF did not last long. The First Minister of Scotland seems not to know what ‘stay alert’ means and has made it very clear those living in Scotland should “stay home,” with unsubtle reference to “catastrophic consequence” should those north of the border break her command. The subtext being that there will be catastrophic consequence in England given the alleged confusing message.

Nicola Sturgeon’s approach is odd indeed for only last week she was hailed, by elements of the media, for her step-by-step ‘logical’ approach to ending the lockdown sooner than in the rest of the UK. Of course her presentation offered no detail other than hints of an easing – and all of it gleaned from existing UK Government guidance. It was, in truth, a summary of what Downing Street had been circulating for weeks. 

Today, just one week later, she argues the exact opposite. The full lockdown is to remain. Moreover, she effectively accuses Johnson of being reckless with life and unspecific and vague in message and instruction. 

To emphasise her point her daily press conference on Monday sported big signs with the phrase “Stay at home” – to draw the distinction that she rejects the idea of some relaxation of the lockdown rules while 'staying alert' to the danger and to the necessary precautions. That message had rarely, if at all, been given such singular prominence. And yet, as she emphasises the need for clarity from politicians she says a little more outdoors exercise is allowed (just not as much as in England). How going out for more exercise fits with “Stay at home” is not explained, nor is it questioned.

Sturgeon’s spin, lapped-up unquestioningly by the media in both Edinburgh and London as usual, is revealing though. Effectively while Johnson’s approach remains highly cautious it says’ trust the people,’ rightly giving some personal responsibility and a little bit of discretion to act in a way most appropriate to personal circumstance. 

Sturgeon on the other hand, after a seven week lockdown, say’s no you won’t be trusted. I know best. I will dictate for even longer what you can and cannot do. Perhaps you can go out more than once to exercise but that is it.

This is the effective difference between the two leaders highlighted by this issue. One believes in personal responsibility, the idea that the individual and family know best and that one is capable of assessing risk, within reason, one’s self.

The other approach is to say sorry we know best and we will control and regulate you. In Scotland under the SNP it has 'aye been' the latter approach.

Given Scotland receives 17 per cent higher public spending than the rest of the UK, has a much lower average population density, a less transient population than many English conurbations – and went into the lockdown earlier in the pandemic cycle than England – Scotland should, all other things being equal, be in one of the strongest positions in the UK to unwind the lockdown quickly. But not so under Sturgeon’s joyless leadership. 

We need to be very clear here, for while Sturgeon is a seasoned and confident presenter who seems reasonable at first glance, any inspection of what she actually does is generally illiberal, centralising and controlling and certainly not brooking alternative ideas, action or variation in the different regions and circumstance of Scotland. (If Scotland is so different from England why are Orkney and Shetland treated the same as Edinburgh and Glasgow?)

Let’s make no mistake, rational people are going to be cautious in coming out of lockdown. Johnson is not exactly saying let’s all go on a cruise down the Thames, but what he is offering is a slow, common sense route back to normality where individuals assess their own risk – not the state. Some will decide for personally rational reasons to stay at home, other will be prepared to accept a slightly higher level of risk and go back to work or perhaps meet a friend in the garden. 

Moreover, decent people do not go around invading other’s space or acting irresponsibly. 95 per cent of the population have acted curiously, carefully and respectfully. Policy cannot be dumbed down to appease the 5 per cent who fail to understand civility or good sense. 

The people have shown themselves to act highly responsibly and now is the time to loosen the lead, for those who want to, that bit more. In time it can be taken off altogether. What certainly is true is that if we don’t take some risk there will be no economy for the rest to go back to. 

And here is the rub. Johnson has to consider many eventualities. Health, economic prosperity and wider social and health issues for which his government is ultimately responsible. Sturgeon can grandstand, seem reasonable, when actually acting with an iron glove – but ultimately as the Scottish economy sinks further into deep ice it is Johnson’s government that will actually have to bail Sturgeon out. Again.

Screenshot of Nicola Sturgeon press conference from BBC broadcast showing prominent "Stay at home" message.


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