Nicola Sturgeon shamelessly exploited Covid in her Revolutionary War, writes TOM HARRIS
Nicola Sturgeon never liked the very idea of ”Freedom Day” very much.
Twenty-four hours before Boris Johnson abolished most of England’s Covid rules last July, the Scottish Prime Minister tweeted: ‘Talking about tomorrow as ‘freedom day’ (England only remembers) no doesn’t make sense IMO [in my opinion] given the current situation.
This sarcastic reference to “England only” says a lot about Sturgeon’s approach to the pandemic.
Almost as important as his own lockdown measures have been his tireless efforts to set Scottish policy against that of Westminster, and his own decisions against those made by Boris Johnson.
Nothing suits her better than when she boasts of the superiority of her own judgment.
Nicola Sturgeon never liked the very idea of ”Freedom Day” very much. Almost as important as his own lockdown measures have been his tireless efforts to set Scottish policy against Westminster and his own decisions against those made by Boris Johnson.
But now we know that was not the case. New research from the Financial Times and YouGov revealed this week that all the extra pain inflicted on Scots by Sturgeon – extended mask mandates, stricter social distancing measures, longer lockdowns – has made almost no discernible difference in the number of deaths during the crucial Delta and Omicron waves.
In fact, Scottish death rates have actually been higher than England’s for the past six months, while the new data also shows that south of the border, while behavior over the last year has eased in accordance with the policy, the result has been fewer deaths.
Needless to say, that’s not how things were supposed to turn out for Sturgeon. She has used her response to the pandemic to take a contrasting position with that of Johnson.
While he was the reckless clown who played fast and free with the lives and safety of his citizens, she was the thoughtful and courageous matriarch who put her people before her own political reputation, unafraid to dodge difficult decisions to ensure the security of his country.
And, thanks to the perpetual propaganda of the Scottish National Party – and the English left-wing news media, which seem all too happy to trumpet Sturgeon’s politics as gospel – that print was certainly showing signs of success.
Just before Christmas, The Guardian claimed that Sturgeon ‘avoids scoring political points’ (which will surprise anyone who has paid even remote attention to the workings of the SNP), creating ‘an inevitable contrast with the Prime Minister who not only suffers from fallout from last year’s Christmas party revelations, but also continues to insist that they continue this year”.
Well, it is now clear that Boris’ “insistence” on public freedom over the past year has done no harm. But maybe that never mattered to Sturgeon.
After all, the main aim of his heavy-handed response – as always with the SNP – was to foment division between Scotland and England.
The nationalist narrative is as dishonest as it is simple: Scotland is faring much better than England, so why are we still in a political and economic union with them?
This argument was repeated by one of Sturgeon’s closest Covid advisers and independence supporter, Dr Devi Sridhar, who in an interview last year claimed that an independent Scotland would have suffered less death because his government could have made better decisions.
This is despite the fact that health policy is entirely devolved to Scotland and entirely under the control of the SNP. The reality is that the new data is devastating to nationalist hopes of emerging from the crisis of the past two years with a reputation for good governance.
Instead of prioritizing her country’s struggling businesses, the only “freedom” Sturgeon obsessed over during the pandemic was one that would leave her and her party free to rule Scotland as their eternal stronghold.
But now his strategy has proven dishonest – albeit clever – and damaging in equal measure. Dishonest because, as the FT puts it, the real policy differences between different British nations have been in tone rather than substance.
It was smart because many Scots fell in love with this story. A poll taken in August 2020 following the first wave of Covid found that Scots had given Sturgeon an approval rating of over 50%, a figure that only dropped after she started to appear on television screens less frequently to provide live updates on the pandemic.
And it’s been damaging because, when Sturgeon was lucky enough to follow Johnson’s example of saying ‘enough’ last summer, she chose to force Scots to continue social distancing, to wear masks and to limit their numbers in social situations, especially in pubs and restaurants.
The economic cost has been devastating, and for Scottish hospitality bosses in particular the pandemic has been far worse than it was for their southern colleagues.
Across the economy, as unemployment continues to fall across the UK – with job vacancies at a record high and wages rising – Scottish employment levels have fallen by 0, 8% in the last quarter of 2021, according to the ONS.
Twenty-four hours before Boris Johnson abolished most of England’s Covid rules last July, the Scottish Prime Minister tweeted: ‘Talking about tomorrow as ‘freedom day’ (England only remembers) no doesn’t make sense IMO [in my opinion] given the current situation”
It’s not just the economy. The Scottish healthcare system before the virus was in crisis. Now, non-Covid healthcare has all but collapsed. Scottish deaths from strokes, for example, are at their highest since 2016, while fatal heart attacks are at their highest since 2013 for men.
And in Scottish schools – again much criticized even before Covid for failing pupils – the long-term impact on children will be felt for years.
A study by the LSE last July estimated that Scottish children had fallen further behind than their English counterparts, losing up to 119 of the usual 190 learning days during their school year.
And it’s all because of Sturgeon’s politics, it seems. It is now clear that the best Covid policy decision made by Johnson’s government was to pursue a vaccine approval process outside of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Many siren voices warned that leaving the EMA would be a disaster. Today, it’s hard to find one who maintains that view (though they’re hesitant to credit Johnson with making the right call).
Thanks to this decision, however, the Scots were among the first citizens of the planet to protect themselves from the worst effects of Covid. Yet you would be hard-pressed to find a Scottish minister who has ever acknowledged this.
In fact, the SNP opposed Britain leaving the EMA – until they saw that Boris Johnson was right, in which case they tried to take credit for the rollout of the vaccine themselves.
Sturgeon was also among the most enthusiastic supporters of the doomsday predictions of ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London and other pessimistic government experts.
Analyzing the potential impact of the lockdowns in March 2020, Ferguson wrote: ‘We do not take into account the wider social and economic costs of the shutdown, which will be high.
Sturgeon was also among the most enthusiastic supporters of the doomsday predictions of ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson (pictured) of Imperial College London and other pessimistic government experts.
In other words, in addition to the exaggerated predictions of deaths that never happened, the economic, social and health consequences of the lockdown – the now crippling waiting lists for cancer patients to be diagnosed and treated, for example – never entered it. And still the bodies piled up.
So now there must be accountability. We know drastic state solutions don’t work, we need to know what the SNP’s priorities really were: making Scotland safer and protecting the economy?
Or exploit an unprecedented deadly pandemic to advance the case for independence? If it was the latter, then what a betrayal. The people of Scotland deserve better than Sturgeon and his ilk.
Tom Harris is a former Labor MP for Glasgow South.