From an outside perspective, Nicola Sturgeon has her hands on the helm and is steadying the Scottish ship through the tidal wave of Coronavirus. However, after 8 weeks of lockdown, catastrophic failures are surfacing. Although Nicola Sturgeon is an excellent communicator, the ship is beginning to rock and is in danger of sinking.
We all know that the First Minister of Scotland is a worthy politician. She is usually calm, confident, and collected during her daily press conference however, she has recently been forced to defend her Government’s actions which has left her looking uncomfortable when questioned by journalists. This is due to her Government’s handling over the first known Coronavirus outbreak at a Nike conference in Edinburgh’s Hilton Carlton hotel in late February, but also other factors such as care home testing and contact tracing.
I will start with the Nike conference as this has become a huge scandal here in Scotland. The Scottish Mail on Sunday recently reported that two companies believe their staff contracted the virus due to the Nike conference. A marketing firm -which shares a building with a Glasgow Nike store- has detailed that four of their staff contracted COVID-19 soon after the conference took place. Another business – a Kilt shop which fitted 10 of the conference delegates – has also come forward to reveal that employees were symptomatic following the event.
What we do know is that a substantial number of the delegates who attended this event were from overseas, but Scots have been left in the dark as the Scottish Government has not been forthcoming with information. However, on Monday 18th May, another astonishing revelation was that 20 Lloyds Banking Group staff shared hotel facilities with Nike delegates involved in the Coronavirus outbreak. What makes this story newsworthy is that the bank was not notified by the Scottish Government of this danger and no staff were contact traced.
This raises the issue of transparency. The First Minister has said information was not made public at the time for ‘legitimate’ reasons relating to public confidentially. However, the Scottish Government could have released this information and introduced lockdown measures sooner. Was the Scottish Government ever going to tell the public or related businesses about the Nike conference?
The Scottish Government has ample opportunity to provide members of the public with much needed reassurance however, they have failed to do so. For a First Minister who vowed to be the ‘most accessible’ ever, she is falling far short of her high standards. This whole scandal has been deemed a ‘cover-up’ and I think it will be difficult for Nicola Sturgeon or any other member of her cabinet to defend their actions.
Another failure of the Scottish Government has been our care homes. I know each region of the United Kingdom has experienced criticism for their handling of care homes. However, in Scotland, it appears that we are suffering a proportionally higher number of confirmed Coronavirus deaths, than the rest of the UK, with 9.4% of confirmed Coronavirus deaths in Scotland, which accounts for 8.2% of the overall population. Although the Scottish Government has bowed to pressure to test all care home workers, they have failed to announce that care home residents will be universally tested. This strategy differs to the one announced by Matt Hancock on Friday, as England will be testing every care home resident and staff member in the coming weeks. With death rates higher in Scotland than the rest of the United Kingdom in care homes, I would have expected the Scottish Government to have adopted a similar approach before now.
Finally, contact tracers. Until this week, the Scottish Government had failed to hire a single COVID-19 contact tracer to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. Scotland requires around 2,000 trained tracers to help gather data on Coronavirus as the country moves into its ‘test, trace, isolate’ phase. When you compare this to the announcement of 17,000 already recruited contact tracers by the UK Government, it shows how far behind Scotland is to the rest of the UK. This, of course, raises more questions in relation to how longer Scotland will be in lockdown if the delayed response to recruit contact tracers by the Scottish Government proves to be a contributory factor.
I am in no doubt that any Government Leader will be under severe pressure and scrutiny whilst they battle this pandemic. However, the failings from the SNP Government highlight that the First Minister is completely out of her depth. I believe that once Scotland emerges from lockdown, serious questions will need to be asked of how the SNP, and in particular Nicola Sturgeon, has captained the ship.
Meghan Gallacher, Scotland Coordinator for Conservative Progress and Leader of the Conservatives on North Lanarkshire Council