The Scotsman

Leaving the lockdown in lockstep is waytoend confusion

Different approaches will only result in bewilderin­g messages to the public, writes Brian Monteith


How do you find clarity when you are surrounded by the fog of war? That has been a central part of the problem in the UK’S approach to dealing with the coronaviru­s pandemic.

There might be a pea-souper in London but sadly in Scotland it is even murkier as a real dank haar has descended upon us, sowing doubt and confusion. The origins of this fog can be traced chiefly from politician­s of all parties and their well intentione­d but often illadvised utterances – thus, when you add more layers of politician­s you just compound the lack of vision.

The latest confusion stems from the decision by the Prime Minister to sign-off a change in the slogan “Stay Home, Save the NHS, Save Lives” to “Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives”.

When questioned about the new slogan – designed to reflect the gradual lifting of lockdown being announced in England, Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said she had no idea what “Stay alert” meant. Considerin­g she admitted on the BBC that she had not seen her latest guidance regarding care home admissions, one could be forgiven for thinking that being alert is not her strong point.

When there’s a singular common enemy it’s easy to take a slogan such as “Careless talk costs lives” and make its meaning clear and understand­able by consistent­ly repeating it. When the common enemy is not only a virus but also other targets (such as one’s profession­al competitor­s), sowing confusion through needless public scepticism, poorly disguised ignorance – or baring one’s grievances – is second nature for some politician­s.

There is no need for confusion – the slogan means people are being told that staying home under certain circumstan­ces is no longer vital – but that when they do go out they should stay alert to the danger and stay alert to the precaution­s that should continue to be taken (such as social distancing). Be under no illusion, if politician­s want to roll a smoke grenade in the public’s direction and sow confusion, they will do so, all the while calling for greater clarity.

The First Minister bemoans she had not been consulted on the new slogan – and on this point I for once am prepared to believe her – but I find it unsurprisi­ng. Who in politics would trust Sturgeon with a secret? Is that the same Nicola Sturgeon who has repeatedly strained relations with Downing Street by revealing ahead of the Prime Minister decisions taken at Cobra meetings?

In truth we had reached the point where, if we wanted to know what Boris Johnson was about to say next, we need only listen to what Sturgeon was saying now. Who then can blame Downing Street for cutting her out?

The evidence has been mounting week after week that in taking a “Scottish” approach, even if at times only slightly nuanced, the First Minister has caused avoidable delay. One such example has been the delay in introducin­g testing for those people being moved out of NHS hospitals and into care homes.

The initial decision across the UK to move patients had been taken to create greater capacity for dealing with new admissions of people showing symptoms of coronaviru­s.

This relocation was initially done without first testing those patients for Covid-19 – putting at risk the highly vulnerable residents and staff of care homes. Recognisin­g the mistake, a decision was taken on 15 April by English Health Secretary

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