Herald letter: Where The Covid The Buck Stops.

GH Weir (Letters, June 12) needs to produce evidence if he wishes to lay the blame for Scotland’s Covid-19 infections and death rates on Westminster. In particular, he needs to show how and when the Scottish Government was overruled on the issues of lockdown and quarantine.

In the first case, he would do well to review all of the press conferences held by the First Minister in the first half of March. If he does so, he will see repeated arguments from the Scottish Government and its advisors that lockdown was not necessary. As late as March 18, we were told very clearly that “we are definitely not at the stage of needing lockdown measures in Scotland”. Not by Boris Johnson, not by Dominic Cummings, but by the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland under the admiring eye of Nicola Sturgeon.

In the case of quarantine, we need to see footage of the First Minister or the Health Secretary advocating such a move at any stage. Or perhaps correspondence to the Home Secretary or Health Secretary to show how much more prescient the Scottish Government was. In the absence of quarantine, it was all the time within the devolved public health powers of the Scottish Government to test international arrivals at Scotland’s airports and advise them to go into quarantine if they tested positive. Or to set up a strict Scotland-only protocol for everyone entering the country by whatever means. These steps were not taken, and again, the people deciding not to do so were not bogeymen in London but the Scottish Government.

The buck stops in Edinburgh and no-one should forget it.

Peter A Russell, Glasgow G13.

Herald letter: The Nationalist Parlour Game.

RUTH Marr (Letters, June 9) and others are indulging in a fallacy in their assertions that “if Scotland was independent…” with regard to the current Covid-19 pandemic. There is no comparison to be made between Scotland and New Zealand, not least because the latter is an archipelago so biologically remote from the rest of the world and anomalous that it had no terrestrial mammals at all until the Polynesians arrived in the 13th century.

What is more, Scotland voted to stay in the UK in 2014. The choice of two million Scots was the preference for the risks and responsibilities of being part of bigger and more diverse country and economy over those of being part of a smaller and narrower one. If we want to play Ms Marr’s parlour game and pretend that something else happened, we can also imagine the penury that Scotland would have faced following the greatest economic shock in its history, and wonder how on earth we would have managed with public services stripped of over £10 billion every year.

Such speculation is all very entertaining, and makes useful material for the attempts of nationalists to distract us from the failings of the SNP Scottish Government. But Scotland is not New Zealand. Nor Norway nor Denmark nor the Republic of Ireland. Nor in terms of responsibility for public health and the NHS and care homes, is it even England.

In the real world, we can only judge Nicola Sturgeon and Jeane Freeman and co by the actions and decisions they have taken, and have failed to take, and above all by the Covid-19 infection rate and death toll in Scotland. No wonder that their supporters want us to be distracted by their pointless fantasies.

Peter A Russell, Glasgow G13.

Herald letter: Who Is To Blame?

MANY of your correspondents are quite rightly outraged at Dominic Cummings and the Prime Minister and it is little wonder that they have taken to your pages to express their fury – although I wonder where the anger of some of them was when Catherine Calderwood was breaking lockdown for a couple of jollies in Fife, and when Nicola Sturgeon was defending her to the hilt.

However, I hope that they all feel much better for getting it off their chest, and will now turn their attention to figuring out who is responsible for the NHS and public health in Scotland, and in particular, where the blame lies for our excess death rates and in particular those in our care homes. (Clue: it is not Dominic Cummings.)

Peter A Russell, Glasgow G13.

Herald letter: Covid Alert Level.

NOT very long ago, Nicola Sturgeon told us that she would enter into a grown-up conversation with the Scottish public about coronavirus. So far it appears to consist of “shut up and do what you are told”, but we can hope that it will eventually begin.

When it does, a good start would be to be informed whether Scotland is to have its own Covid Alert Level, which seems to be a useful tool in the battle to get out of lockdown. Crucially, it also would allow us to come to our own conclusions as to whether the measures in place at any time are necessary and proportionate.

Or does the First Minister not think we are grown-up enough to handle such information?

Peter A Russell, Glasgow G13.

Herald letter: Elderly Care & Devolution.

DAVE McEwan Hill (Herald letters, May 5) is absolutely correct that after the Covid-19 crisis is over, we need to examine and improve the ways in which care for the elderly and vulnerable is provided and regulated. However, like many of your other correspondents, he appears not to have noticed that devolution has happened, and continues to blame the Westminster government.

While it is true that the private sector was originally able to use the elderly care system as a cash cow due to the UK government, most of us are aware that for over 20 years the issue has been in the hands of the Scottish Government, which since 2007 has been run by the SNP.

Similarly, when it is apparent that that the protection of vulnerable people in Scotland’s care homes is inadequate, the blame for deficiencies in the regulation of those institutions lies with Jeane Freeman [health secretary] and ultimately with Nicola Sturgeon.

The Nationalists choose to neglect the fact that they have had the powers to create a better system for all those years, but have failed to do so. I wonder what could have been the distraction on which so much energy and money has been wasted instead of looking after our elderly?

Peter A. Russell

A New Start For Nicola Sturgeon.

Three years ago, I wrote a counterfactual ‘Imagine’ in which I tried to show that Scotland need not have gone to down the road to division and endless strife along the faultline of indepedendence. It attempted to show how real leadership from Nicola Sturgeon could have led to a better country for all of us, based on a consensus around the outcome of the SNP’s referendum in 2014.

Since 2014, of course, she has done no such thing, and many of us have been in turns frustrated, despairing and enraged at her very obvious contempt for the views of the majority who voted to remain in the UK.

So it is interesting and heartening to see her article in today’s Sunday Herald newspaper, in which she states her intention that a post-Covid Scotland will be different, and will be built on working together. That was of course always the intention of the anti-independence campaign – that we get on better as a nation (and as a species) when we are co-operating and supporting each other.

Most significantly,her article does not mention Scottish independence at all. We must assume that this is deliberate.

It is clear that Nicola Sturgeon and her Nationalist Scottish Government has failed us badly. The Coronavirus Crisis has given her an opportinuity to put that right, and to build a new consensus based on the will of the Scottish people to stay in the UK.

I hope with all my heart that she has the wisdom and courage to do so. And I will be the first to congatulate her if she manages it.

My original counterfactual imagined the speech that Nicola Sturgeon might have made to her supporters if she had wished to create a better country in 2014. Here is an updated version.

Friends, colleagues, fellow Nationalists.

This terrible and deadly virus has had a profound effect on the world: on the UK, on SCotland and on each and everyone of us. We are no longer in the world of 2015, or even early 2020. We are all different, and we must all learn to live in this new reality.

I include myself in that: I have learnt a profound and powerful lesson which I hope I can pass on to you. That lesson is that Scotland is better off as a part of the United Kingdom.

I have seen the value of Scotland’s postion in the UK endorsed many times over in the current crisis: the billions of pounds in support for Scottish workers and businesses, the supply of PPE for Scotland’s frontline workers, the work of the Army in building the Glasgow Nightingale Hospital, and its role in running testing faciltiies. These will never be forgotten, above all not by the many, many thousands Scots who have kept their incomes, their jobs, their homes and their lives due to our being part of the United Kingdom.

We have learned the simple human lesson that when we work with each other, the product of our effort is more than the sum of our inputs. And that it is a strength to share and support each other. So it is time to take different path.

I have looked at our country and seen what the referendum in 2014 did to it: the divisions between friends and neighbours, the families split, the growth of a new sectarianism, where the question is no longer “which school did you go to?” but “were you Yes or No?” I have also seen that while there is uncertainty caused by the threat of a further independence bid, investment is falling in our economy, with effects on productivity and in turn on employment.

Therefore I am going to take the following steps.

First, I will convene an all-party group on recovery from the crisis. Its specific remit will be to unite the country and to build a new political consensus based on promoting Scotland’s well-being withiin the UK. That was the task with which we were charged in 2014, and we have failed. I apologise to Scotland for that failure, but as First Minister is is my job to put our failures right. There is no time to be lost in doing so.

Secondly, I will make the first item on the agenda of the group a proposal for a Government of National Unity, proving that goodwill is not the monopoly of any faction or party in this country. And as a token of our goodwill, I will take up the proposal made after 2014 by Johann Lamont to develop a bipartisan policy on National Health Service, taking it out of the political realm so real solutions for the long term can be developed. This will include updating the strategy for a pandemic which I put in place in 2007.

Finally, and I know this will hurt some, I will suspend Article 2a of the SNP constitution for a period of 25 years. This of course commits us to independence. The 25 years of course refers to our own definition of the referendum- [emphasis] OUR OWN definition – as Once In A Generation which we repeated so frequently in our campaign. But please note also that I am not proposing deletion of that clause.

In the meantime, I will be setting up a working group under my deputy’s leadership to set out a fully timetabled and costed strategy to prepare a case for independence for the next generation.

Colleagues, one of the things which I have realised in the wake of our defeat was this: our economic case was not strong enough, our currency plan was an Achilles Heel, and our opponents were right to call us out on the issues which most affect the most needy in society, notably spending on public services – including the NHS – and pensions. We need a radical rethink, we need our own Once In A Generation transformation. We need to get real and never again to offer a proposition to our people which is based on wishful thinking and half-truths.

And I have learned more from my self-reflection in the pandemic.

I have learned that those who opposed us in the referendum did so with just the same love of this country as we did: it is just they saw things in a different way. They want the same good society that we do, and the same freedoms and the same success for our nation, but they saw that they might be better achieved in a continuing union.

And crucially, it turns out, they knew our people better then we did. I know that it is hard to stomach, and I had some problem doing so. But it is a truth we must face.

What is more, I stand before you today having been a member of our party all my adult life. What I tell you is that if I can swallow this bitter medicine, so can you. Our country needs us far more as positive and engaged citizens than it does as a bitter remnant of past battles, forever crying into our our beer, wallowing in the indignation of defeat rather than addressing the challenges of the new reality we face.

Herald letter: Lucky White Heather

OWEN Kelly’s letter (April 20) is typical of the magical thinking of many nationalists: their belief is that Scotland would by the fact of independence automatically perform as well as the best-performing small countries. However, there is of course no evidence that this will be the case.

To do so, it would require a number of critical decisions by the Scottish Government, which it has so far not shown its capacity to make. To quote just the three most obvious failures, Nicola Sturgeon, Kate Forbes and Jeane Freeman have stood by a shamed and disgraced senior advisor; made a complete mess of financial assistance to small businesses; and worst of all have presided over a shambles in relation to testing and PPE in care homes which may have cost many, many lives.

At the time of the 2014 referendum, you [the Herald newspaper] wisely chose to reject independence on the Gramscian grounds that the SNP proposition was rich in emotional optimism but poor in intellectual pessimism. The lesson to be learned from the current crisis is similar – at all levels, policy must be based on a critical appraisal of the risks, rather than just hoping for the best. The lucky white heather doesn’t usually work.

Peter A Russell, Glasgow G13

For those who do not have access to the Herald paywall website, you will have missed this charming response from one of those lovely SNP people:

Oh do bugger off, you sad, pathetic little man.

It tells you a lot that the only people ranting about Scottish independence right now are deranged frothing at the mouth British Empire fanatics like Peter and the appalling journalists who appear delighted at the thought of coronavirus negatively impacting support for independence.

Pretty sickening really, and demonstrates just how bitter and angry and deeply unpleasant these Union Flag zealots are.

Herald letter: Sturgeon not in control.

IN the justifiable uproar over the resignation of the disgraced Catherine Calderwood, an extremely important isssue is in danger of being missed.

By the time Nicola Sturgeon gave her disastrous press conference on Sunday, she knew that Dr Calderwood had been in Fife on at least two weekends when she should have been in Edinburgh. If we take the First Minister at her word that she had not known of the Chief Medical Officer’s whereabouts until that day (and we have no reason to doubt her) then she is admitting that she had lost operational control.

Had the CMO’s advice – which was cited as being so irreplaceably invaluable at the same press conference – was required, at short notice, she was over an hour’s drive away. The question is: why did the First Minster not know the whereabouts of her Chief Medical Officer at the time of a deadly pandemic?

Peter A Russell, Glasgow 13.

Herald letter: Coronavirus and devolution

YOUR lead letter (March 31) and its accompanying photograph of the UK Cabinet, is, I am afraid some 20 years out of date.

Since 1999, the National Health Service and public health policy in Scotland have been devolved to Holyrood, and indeed even before that were devolved to the Home and Health Department at St Andrew’s House. Therefore the Scottish National Health Service was free at any point to anticipate the effects of a potential pandemic, and to use its procurement powers to equip itself with PPE and and to mobilise testing accordingly. Why, like its counterparts elsewhere in the UK, it failed to do so is probably a question for another day.

When that time comes, it will be more accurate to ask why our governments (plural) were not be better prepared. And to head the story with pictures of Nicola Sturgeon and Jeane Freeman as well as of Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock.

Peter A Russell, Glasgow G13.

Herald letter: The Party Scots Did Not Vote For.

AS a long-term supporter of electoral reform, I was of course interested to see the findings of the Electoral Reform Society, which concluded that the SNP’s representation at Westminster is grotesquely disproportionate to the votes it received in the December election.

Can I be first to declare that I am fed up with Scotland being represented by a party that we did not vote for?

Peter A Russell, Glasgow G13.