2007 - 2021

Pooling and Sharing

The constitutional crisis has been parked behind the others crises that are piling up like a motorway car crash. But the rank incompetence of Johnson’s regime and the positive examples of how to do this from elsewhere around the world are ramping up the pressure for the Scottish Government to take its own approach to the coronavirus.

Sir Jeremy Farrar of the Wellcome Trust is predicting that the UK could be heading to be “one of the worst, if not the worst” hit countries in Europe. This despite UK having the natural advantage of being one of the latest countries in Europe to have a large number of cases.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said there would be “difficult questions” over whether the UK was too slow to impose a lockdown, but added mysteriously  “now is not the time for those”.

Many people are asking, with health devolved, why did the Scottish Government not plan its own course of action in the first place?

It may well have been that a pan-UK response seemed the obvious thing to do given that we could pool resources and co-ordinate action, and given the difficulties of having two different approaches both sides of an un-policed border.

But as the UK government’s inability to act results in thousands of deaths, it may be time to change course.

Where are the ventilators? Where is the mass testing? Where are the PPE masks? Where is the contact tracing? Why is this being organised like a bring and buy sale?

Medical statistician James Urquhart writes (A Room Without a View): “Mass testing alone will not substantially reduce the number of deaths over the coming year. Experience from countries which have restricted the growth of cases demonstrates that contact tracing is key to saving lives. Achieving a successful contact tracing programme will require careful planning and this should already have begun.”

Urquhart argues: “Perhaps now is the time to offer a challenge to the devolved administrations. If the Westminster-based COBRA machinery is too cumbersome and sclerotic to offer innovative solutions, are you prepared to develop your own strategies? Of course, there are advantages in pursuing a common policy across the four home nations. But if all that is on offer in a month’s time from the UK government is a stop-go lockdown strategy are you willing to accept that deaths will continue on a rising trajectory?”

The daily briefings seem inept and monotonous, veering from Hancock’s studied ineptitude to our Home Secretary spouting numbers like a deranged Countdown contestant.

This is a farce.

The idea seemed obvious at first to have a “four nation” response, but if its true as emerged today, that the four largest manufacturers are limiting their supplies to England, that may not be possible to maintain.

I’m incredulous that that is permissible.

There are so many examples of businesses acting unilaterally. We keep being told these are “unprecedented” times. If this is true, as it surely is, the government should be commandeering these companies to distribute supplies equally across the whole of the UK.

But what may be happening here is that just as the Conservatives innate instinct for neoliberalism and eugenics has informed their disastrous “herd immunity” strategy, so too has their inability to distinguish “England” from “Britain”. If this is true then the Union is proving to be actually lethal.

Nicola Sturgeon’s instinct right from the beginning was to be as co-operative as possible in working with the rest of the UK. She assumed good faith and she assumed acting in unison would be to everyone’s benefit. She has come across as clear and open and her communication has been immeasurably better than Boris Johnson’s. She probably believed rightly that she would have been open to immense criticism for “politicising” the situation. But the crisis is immensely political. There is no avoiding that.

James Urquhart concludes: “Scotland has the devolved power to follow its own strategic objectives. The question is: does it have the courage and skills to start planning now for an exit strategy which wholeheartedly and comprehensively embraces contact tracing? The answer firmly rests with all our politicians and their advisors. We should be hearing from them now.”

But questions remain. To what extent can and should the Scottish Government put in place its own policies and responses? What are the technical and practical difficulties with this? How is it possible with an open border?

How can we take the lessons from other countries and urgently implement best practice?


Edinburgh RIC have organised a Zoom call for Wednesday, see the details for how to join here: ‘Scotland and the Pandemic’.


Comments (23)

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  1. Jo says:

    I really wish on-lookers would shut up about “exit strategies” when we are slap in the middle of this daily update of more deaths. It’s bloody obscene and downright disrespectful.

    I’m sick to death of journalists whining for an end to the lockdown. Are they stupid?

    It’s not about “courage and skills”. It’s currently about conflicting reports with one side claiming there is enough PPE and those in need of that saying the opposite. Who’s telling the truth?

    Then there’s the Care Inspectorate, another useless public body, declining to publish figures and being very coy no matter the question put to it. That is shameful.

    We are where we are. Taking a different route now would, in my view, be disastrous for the SNP. The rabid pack which gathers daily for the briefing would seize upon such a move and present it as something sinister, to put it mildly.

    We need to know what’s going on with the PPE. We need Care Homes to be protected just as NHS workers are. They are often run by private companies only interested in money. Staff are very often on minimum wage. It’s no good to say, “Here’s a phone number.” The Care Inspectorate needs to do its job. The SG needs to kick some ass. The people in these places are sitting ducks. There is nowhere for them to run. They are trapped.

    These things must be addressed. I’m sorry, embarking on a new route altogether this far in is just insane.

    1. I’m not sure why you would you change nothing if its really failing?

      But I really dont have the answers and I see a whole heap of problems…

      1. Jo says:

        Mike, the problems are horrendous. I think we’re too far down a particular road to change direction now. It would be construed in so many negative ways. Plus, what can we change? We hear daily that the NHS doesn’t have what it needs. I wish someone would track the actual source of the problem. It may not be at government level, it may be NHS not managing distribution. (Entirely possible.) We either have the stuff or we don’t. If we do, why is it not where it should be? If we don’t, they need to tell us.

        I meant to mention Starmer. What a letdown he is, demanding an exit strategy just days after Blair did. (Writing on the wall there!)

        The thing that shocks me most is the media. They aren’t scientists yet every word of opinion they write is presented as fact. MacWhirter has been particularly outrageous. Given the risks people are facing I wish someone would just shut these guys down.

        There’s so much we don’t know. I have two immediate family in different places, one in sheltered housing for learning disabled adults, the other in a care home with dementia. The former is coping really well, the staff are fab. They were locked down quickly. The latter is doing so-so but the worry is dreadful. You just hope everyone is following guidance rigidly to keep everyone safe.

        Sorry, rambling now.

        1. We’re all rambling now …

          Yeah I don’t have easy (any?) answers and I see that everyone in charge is faced with a bewildering set of options.

          But I think that the UK govt needs to hold that and I find them deeply unconvincing …

          1. Jo says:

            Agree…. watching UK briefing today was excruciating. Raab was waffling all over the place.

            Q. How many people in care homes have died of Covid 19?

            A. The important thing is that we all follow the guidance.

            They’re not even counting them in England. He didn’t want to answer the question.

    2. Derek Thomson says:

      “We need Care Homes to be protected just as NHS workers are”??!! Are you joking? They’re not being protected. What seems to be not being widely reported is that the UK (English) government on March 19th downgraded Covid 19 from a “High Consequence Infectious Disease”. And why? Because if it remained “High Consequence”, the government were legally obliged to supply PPE conforming to WHO standards. So the families of those who have died unnecessarily due to the bungling, crass, criminally incompetent clowns, spivs and chancers who at the moment pretend to be a government, could be sued by those families. And that would never do, would it? Absolute scum, even by Tory standards. Do I come across as angry? Because I’m fucking raging.

  2. Liz Summerfield says:

    I’d like to know which companies have decided to supply only England. I know Burberry was reported to be making masks. It’s in the public interest for this information to be published.

  3. Alister Rutherford says:

    What precisely could the Scottish government have done, or do now, that is a) within its devolved powers, and b) does not require substantial additional money? Scottish government cannot magically conjure up billions or even millions of pounds. Only an independent country can do this.

    1. Alastair Wright says:

      I suspect the financial requirements to support & rebuild Scotland’s businesses & economy during and post covid 19 is the big carrot (stick?) being used to neuter any real divergence in strategy and maintaining Scottish government silence over this.

      1. I’m not sure we are being real here

    2. I’m not sure that its about millions or billions

    3. Alasdair Macdonald says:


      This has been my feeling all along. The scale of the crisis is such that, whether we want independence or not, the current devolved settlement does not give the SG sufficient money or powers to take an independent course of action.

      Had the SG embarked on a different strategy I fear that the Westminster Government would have taken severe reprisals and the baleful media would be stirring up mobs, with our own Scottish media joining in with added venom, and the Scottish Tories, labour and LibDems adding their bile.

      1. Jo says:


        And haven’t the bile and venom been bad enough as it is at the Scottish briefings? It’s not journalism. They’re like a pack of wolves. It’s disgusting. One of the days the truly awful Tom Gordon of the Herald was practically spitting out his contribution. Didn’t even try to disguise his hostility and contempt for the First Minister.

        And on hearing the words, “Paul Hutcheon, Daily Record”, I thought, “My, how the mighty have fallen!”

        They, along with their colleagues, have taken the Scottish media way beyond the gutter… they’ve drilled down right into the sewers.

        1. Graeme Purves says:

          Indeed. Yesterday, BBC Radio Scotland’s GMS had ‘Scottish serial entrepreneur, investor and property developer’ Robert Kilgour on deflecting blame for the state of affairs in the care home sector onto the Scottish Government without telling us anything about his background and affiliations.

  4. montfleury says:

    “Conservatives innate instinct for neoliberalism and genetics”

    Do you mean eugenics Mike? Tories pay no heed to genetics.

    1. Oh shit. My head is too fuzzy, Fixed. Sorry.

  5. MBC says:

    There was a story in the Guardian the other day about the Faroe Islands, population 66,000. A vet in Torshavn, the capital, has tested 10% of the entire population using a test he developed in his lab. As a result they have pinpointed the infected people and had them quarantined. Covid has been stopped in its tracks.

    His normal line of work is testing salmon for viruses, as salmon farming is a major plank of the economy. He said it was quite easy to do, he used the same equipment and just changed the reagents. The Chinese government had earlier released the DNA structure of the virus. He was able to get these supplies and manufacture the tests.

    Are the people here doubting the capacity of the Scottish Government to conduct testing independently of the UK seriously thinking it would cost billions and be beyond the capacity of Scotland to do the same?

    Likewise to commission the production of visors, masks, gloves, gowns; identify who needs them; and get them delivered?

  6. Lordmac says:

    Here in Scotland they also stated these fish farms had no viruses, yet they have all over the world, change course now you will be dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t , should it work, you know what would be said, we did not have it to bad, or you are responsible for all them deaths you should have stuck to the plan like we did.

  7. J Galt says:

    Perhaps Russia could help us out with some supplies – they seem to have plenty. Nicola should give that nice Mr Putin a friendly call.

  8. Paul McMillan says:

    PPE is made in China……in sweat shops.
    Burberry are starting to produce in their factory near Leeds but once ‘over? will go back to making coats at £3k a pop by sewers on £10 an hour whilst their ex CEO picked up a £130k per year….clothing allowance.

  9. kate macleod says:

    What’s the point of a regional semi autonomous government that will not lead in a crisis?

    I often see Federalism mocked but Australian States (with a federal govt) seem much more powerful than ScotGov.
    In Australia the States are taking the Federal govt into account but also make their own on rules on schools, border closings (there are even internal border closures within the state of Western Australia), testing and tracing and enacting laws , differing as they see fit. No one sees this as ‘political’ in Australia. Possibly this is as there is no way an australian state or a state parliament can be disbanded, being locked into a Constitution. Australia started as fully autonomous state colonies, without a federal govt until federation in c1901.

    The reason Scotland’s government is afraid to act autonomously when real leadership is absolutely required ( remembering the UK’s ‘leader’ is a reckless and irresponsible fool who deliberately infected himself by shaking hands with infected people, to show what a laugh it all was, and then nearly died a martyr for herd immunity ) is that it does not remember that it was an autonomous State and does not feel it has the legitimacy to act alone, as Australian and US State Governments do. Actually US state govts have to as it is a more you’re on your own model.

    While States in the US have seemed weaker relative to their federal govt australia’s now appear stronger and our national governing body seems to a national cabinet of State Premiers and the PM rather than parliament, which is obviously not that democratic but at least not the model of US states (or apparently UK countries) in competition with each other for PPE and other medical supplies . I think a company or politician suggesting say NSW or Victoria would get all the PPE would find that position impossible to retain (as in have a death wish).

    Where the federal state division proved most of a farce is supposed rent eviction moratoriums, as i gather is even more the case in scotland, where their is none even in theory i gather. The australian federal govt has allowed it to be a farce by leaving eviction moratorium detail to individuals states legislation, probably to protect landlords who will evict plentifully before legislation appears. They are also pretending landlords and tenants will usually resolve rent issues between themselves without intervention. Evictions can continue for other varied reasons or pretences but never be about rent.

    As in the US, some Australian States are doing a better job than others. The people who lead well now will be seen as the most trusted leaders afterwards, especially if they have protected their regional inhabitants from a worse fate of other regions. It looks like Scotland needs companies that are only producing PPE and other essentials for Scotland and that the Scottish Government starts believing it is the government of a State, responsible to its regional inhabitants.

  10. Dougie Blackwood says:

    I joined the zoom meeting but was disappointed. We are where we are but it appeared there was finger pointing rather than any constructive suggestions.

    We are in a hole and we are not sure of any reasonable way forward. If a vaccine could be quickly found, manufactured and distributed that would solve the problem. Without that any relaxation will have us back in crisis until we have real herd immunity with many more dead and a collapsed economy.

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