Common Weal director Robin McAlpine looks at the broad sweep of the Programme for Government on Source here. There will also be a further, more detailed policy analysis published on the site later today. In short, the Programme was a bit of a pre-election teaser. There’s not a lot of heavy lifting going on in terms of pushing through big changes before next year’s May election – it was more about preparing the ground for that event. To take just one example, you may have had the impression from some of the early reporting of the Programme yesterday that a National Care Service was being introduced. What actually was proposed was a review of social care, in which the possibility of a National Care Service will be one of the options considered. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the review will inform the SNP’s manifesto next spring.
Here, we will focus specifically on one issue in the Programme for Government, which relates directly to the other big story of the day – the Glasgow lockdown. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the new restrictions on Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire announced yesterday were a “wake up call”, but for who? On 26 June, the First Minister was talking about “total elimination”, saying the country was “not far away” from that goal. Just over two months on, and the language had been watered down in yesterday’s speech to “the necessity of suppressing and hopefully eliminating” covid-19.
In those two months, we have had one easing of restrictions after another, and now have an infection rate in East Dunbartonshire that is more than twice that of Aberdeen when it re-entered lockdown. Aberdeen had 14 cases per 100,000 on re-entering lockdown; East Dunbartonshire currently has 33 cases per 100,000, Glasgow 22 and East Renfrewshire 19. But the new restrictions in the Glasgow area are weaker than those introduced in Aberdeen, where bars, restaurants and cafes were shut. There appears to be a consistent weakening in the government’s determination to pursue elimination.
Sturgeon has sought to pin responsibility “primarily” on household gatherings for the resurgence, while Donald Macaskill of Scottish Care, a membership organisation for private and voluntary sector care providers, has said “the selfish behaviour and attitude of a few” has made the situation worse for care home residents. Don’t throw stones when you live in a glass house comes to mind: I am yet to hear Macaskill take aim at the selfishness of private equity firms, that have sought to suck every penny they can get out of the care homes sector in profit at the expense of staff and residents, who have both been put at increased risk from covid-19 due to poverty wages, use of agency staff and cost-cutting measures.
The ‘selfish few’ are an easy target for the powerful in a situation like this. The reality is that the resurgence of covid-19 in Scotland has come less than one month after widespread lockdown easing by the Scottish Government (15 July). We were told we were getting close to total elimination at the end of June, and since May the First Minister has said elimination was the aim. The government should be held to the standards it sets itself – Sturgeon needs to explain what went wrong, and how they plan to rectify it.
The Scottish Government has been praised for its handling of covid-19, but Scotland has one of the worst death rates per million of anywhere in Europe. While the UK Government has responsibility for that, the Scottish Government has been praised for its covid-19 successes, so also has to pick up flak for the failures. Nicola Sturgeon may have been presentationally very reassuring, but look at the numbers and it’s impossible to claim Scotland is a success story of this crisis. The language of elimination was picked up from New Zealand, where 22 people have died from covid-19. There have been 4,222 deaths from covid-19 in Scotland – and that’s the registered ones; the excess mortality figures are significantly greater. Now we are in real danger of seeing a resurgence, it’s about time serious questions start being asked again about what the real plan is here.
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