Alert Source Direct readers will have noticed that we have barely mentioned the words ‘the Labour Party’ for months. That’s because they are not in power in Edinburgh or London, and have had little to say about those which are at the helm that was worth paying attention to. Keir Starmer arrived as UK party leader and has barely said anything of consequence since.
What has got my attention is Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard’s attitude to a Scottish-specific strategy on The Coronavirus. Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce such a thing in a report today, which will include a plan for exiting lockdown with a full contact tracing, testing and isolation system in place “to keep the virus at the lowest levels possible,” the First Minister said last night. On Monday we wrote about how this is a sizeable shift from what Sturgeon was arguing 4-6 weeks ago, but one that is much needed. Common Weal head of policy & research Craig Dalzell published an analysis on 8 April arguing that “the Scottish Government must change track now. It must adopt, in full, the WHO’s pandemic strategies, and must do it quickly.” The next day, he laid out a costed plan for how a contact tracing system could be established by the Scottish Government for £1-1.5 billion.
So surely Leonard will respond to Sturgeon’s report today by questioning why it is just coming now and not sooner? Why, he must ask, are we launching a plan for community tracing and testing now when we, arm-in-arm with the UK Government on 12 March, stopped all community tracing for the so-called “delay” phase? There was not one confirmed death in Scotland from Covid-19 when community tracing and testing was stopped that day, but nearly six weeks on the awful figures yesterday from the National Records of Scotland show 1616 deaths. ‘If the Scottish Government can have a separate exit strategy, why couldn’t it have had a separate entry strategy?’, is surely the question Leonard will ask.
Nope. The Scottish Labour leader has a different line of attack. He wants to know how the First Minister can possibly think of doing things differently from the Tories and Boris Johnson.
“We are strongly of the view that there needs to be a cross-border approach,” Leonard said.
He added later: “We cannot have the lockdown lifted in North Berwick and maintained in Berwick-on-Tweed. Cross-border co-operation is needed to protect our health and our economy.”
This is taking bone-headed unionism to the pandemic extreme. Now not only are we ‘Better Together’ with Tory austerity, we are also apparently better together with the disastrous leadership of Boris Johnson in The Coronavirus Crisis, so horribly bad that The FT thinks the real death rate across the UK is actually over 40,000, not 20,000. That’s what a “cross-border” approach actually means in practise – following the UK Government’s failed approach. You don’t need to believe in independence to know that the Scottish Government’s problem thus far has been far too much subservience to the UK Government’s complacent and chaotic Covid-19 response, not too little. You just have to believe that devolved institutions should stand up and be counted at a time like this, and by leading by example they might be able to apply pressure on Number 10 to follow them. Leonard’s critique undermines attempts to challenge the Tories in every part of the UK, including in the Labour-led Welsh Government.
And as historian and Scottish Labour member Ewan Gibbs pointed out, the Republic of Ireland has managed to pursue an independent approach to lockdown from Northern Ireland without too many difficulties. While there are genuine cross-border issues, they can be over-exaggerated as compared to the huge dangers in Holyrood moving at the pace of Whitehall, which is largely what the Scottish Government has done up to this point. And that’s why Leonard’s line of attack is so bewildering – he has a huge gaping goal to shoot at which says ‘why did you follow Boris until now?’ on it, and he’s junked that to aim for the narrow, intensely crowded terrain of ‘why are you being such a nationalist?’. That question doesn’t disarm Sturgeon in the slightest, it actually makes it harder to hold the Scottish Government to account for the mistakes that have been made up until now. The First Minister has batted away the politics of Better Together so many times over the past six years she will have no problem disposing of it this time. One wonders whether Scottish Labour HQ have learnt anything from getting repeatedly trounced since 2014.
Here’s one last attempt to convince them to change course: Richard, people in Scotland don’t like the Tories. They especially don’t like the Tories when they are putting their loved ones in danger. We really don’t need to see the pandemic edition of Better Together. What we do need is an effective opposition that can hold the Scottish Government to account. Do that.
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