The Scottish Government is complicit in the Coronavirus tragedy

CC: Scottish Government images

Michael Quinn points out that, contrary to much mainstream media coverage, Sturgeon’s SNP government has followed the lead of Johnson’s Tories in responding to the pandemic – and have failed just as miserably.

Michael Quinn, is the YCL’s Scottish Organiser

If you’re someone that keeps up to date on opinion polling in the midst of the pandemic, it would be easy to get the impression that the government in Scotland has conducted itself with a unique degree of decorum, transparency and action when compared to Britain’s pandemic response over all[i].  

In truth, the Scottish National Party has prioritised the interests of landlords, investors and private firms over the health and safety of its people.

As the scale of the pandemic was becoming apparent to those in the NHS and the World Health Organisation were issuing dire warnings internationally, the SNP were happy to follow the Tories lead on implementing a lockdown – which was already being called for trade unions and civic organisations. The Scottish government had the powers, but chose not to use them – health, education and law and order are all devolved. Even if you accept the claim of many nationalists that they did not have the powers or the resources – why weren’t they lobbying and mobilising for the UK government to implement a lockdown?

Even more damningly it emerged in May that Nicola Sturgeon and her SNP government had gone as far as to cover up a coronavirus outbreak at a Nike conference in Edinburgh in February. At least 25 people linked to the Nike event may have contracted the virus but people who shared facilities with delegates were not told and no efforts at tracing were made. Healthcare professionals have estimated this may have led to thousands more Scots contracting the disease and resulted in thousands more deaths.[ii] The Scottish government could be accused of a cover-up not too dissimilar to the kind we hear about in the myths of “Stalinism”.

Why are the SNP tailing the Tories and why the cover up? Because the SNP have the same objectives and the same interests as the Tories at Westminster. Not public health but private wealth. Protecting private sector profits and the value of shares in large Scottish and British firms.

SNP MSPs also lined up with the Tories at Holyrood on the 19th of May to vote down modest protections for tenants during the crisis. The amendments to the Coronavirus Bill, proposed by Green MSP Andy Wightman, were similar to the demands being made by tenant unions; Living Rent, ACORN and London Renter’s Union. The proposals included a ban on evictions caused by crisis arrears and a freeze on rents.[iii] Considering the amount of SNP and Conservative politicians with declared interests in the housing sector, this might not be surprising.[iv] After all, if organised tenants manage to win victories in law or “through the proper channels” what is to stop us building on the confidence of victory and expanding on what we have won? 

Bourgeois parliaments (and the vested interests that guide them) know too well the danger of working-class confidence.

Since 2013, council funding in Scotland has been cut by £898.8m under the SNP, leaving Scottish local authorities in danger when the bill for the Coronavirus crisis falls on them. A long-standing crisis in Scotland’s public services stands to deepen if our Scottish Parliament continues to pass on austerity to our people. [v]

For a party built on nationalism and emotional claims to self-determination, the SNP consistently fail to use Scotland’s powers to defy the Conservative Government or to protect the Scottish people. A report, published by the University of Edinburgh as part of a BBC Disclosure investigation, demonstrated that 80% of deaths could have been prevented if the Scottish Government had implemented a lockdown just two weeks earlier. The SNP failed to use devolved health powers to deliver this.

We now know that the Scottish Government commissioned a simulation exercise in 2018, intended to highlight immediate needs in pandemic provision. The study simulated an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), a coronavirus with lower infection rate but higher mortality. Key findings of the study revealed an urgent need for PPE provision and mass contact tracing.

The Scottish Government claimed in minutes of a top-level health meeting in 2019, that the measure recommended in the 2018 study had largely been implemented. This does not add up to the reality we face today, on the tail of what might be the first of several waves of a pandemic of the kind simulated.[vi]

Contract tracing failed in the early stages of the pandemic and the Government failed to lock down in response. Weeks and even months passed before key workers in many sectors were guaranteed PPE and unions still raise concerns in some.[vii] We are yet to see the full implementation of contact tracing and the task itself has been auctioned off to private contractors. Perhaps most notable of these privateer firms is Serco[viii], famous for threatening to change the locks on hundreds of vulnerable asylum seekers[ix], among a long list of other reprehensible acts[x][xi]. The Scottish Government has a longstanding partnership with Serco, recently granting the company a £450m ferry contract.[xii]

It should also be noted that since leaving the European Union, the Scottish Government has the power to procure industries and provide state aid.[xiii] This could have proven decisive in ensuring rapid deployment of PPE in the early stages of the crisis. Even in the middle of a pandemic, the SNP failed to use these powers. The SNP play politics on a continental scale, careful not to upset movers and shakers in Brussels, keen to win support for re-entry to the trading block if they win a referendum.

Once again, for all its appeals to national sentiment, the SNP choose to placate the UK Government, business leaders and the EU, in the name of an international reputation that signals peace to monopoly capital.

The SNP might claim to hate ‘English domination’ and ‘London Rule’ but it’s quite clear they have no problems with allowing Scotland to be dominated by big business and monopolies and ruled by and in the interests of the City of London. It’s the Scottish people who suffer from this subservience.

When it comes to expecting decorum, transparency and action from our representatives in our public hour of need, working people must learn to expect nothing and fight for all.

Michael Quinn


[i] https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/four-five-scots-say-nicola-sturgeon-has-handled-coronavirus-outbreak-well

[ii] https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/columnists/covid-19-nike-conference-cover-scandal-leader-comment-2859888

[iii] https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/snp-and-tories-team-block-rights-tenants-during-coronavirus-crisis

[iv] https://www.parliament.scot/msps/current-msps.aspx

[v] https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/labour-tells-snp-to-invest-in-councils-in-bid-to-avoid-cuts

[vi] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/uk-52927462

[vii] https://www.motherwelltimes.co.uk/health/coronavirus/union-raises-fresh-ppe-protection-fears-north-lanarkshire-2852784

[viii] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/06/serco-wins-covid-19-test-and-trace-contract-despite-1m-fine

[ix] https://www.livingrent.org/serco

[xi] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8343613/Serco-Private-contractor-leading-UKs-coronavirus-contact-tracing-programme-beset-controversy.html

[xii] https://www.northlinkferries.co.uk/northlink-blog/serco-awarded-contract/

[xiii] https://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/overview/index_en.html

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