Angus Robertson: Whatever happened to Tory ‘UK lockstep’ coronavirus call?

DURING the whole of lockdown, the message has been consistent, clear and responsible: “Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.” Government ministers in all four UK capitals have been wrestling with the evidence, to make the best public health decisions and minimise the damage to the economy.

Now we learn that the UK Government is to unilaterally ditch the “Stay at Home” message and signal a winding back from the lockdown. This has happened only days after Secretary of State Alister “Union” Jack insisted in a newspaper article that Scotland should ease the coronavirus lockdown restrictions “in lockstep with the UK as a whole”.

READ MORE: Alister Jack claims Scotland must leave lockdown in ‘lockstep’ with UK

In the same week as the UK coronavirus death toll became the highest in Europe, the Westminster Cabinet’s man in Scotland put ideology ahead of the evidence. By suggesting that regardless of the science, regardless of the expert advice, regardless of the evidence, Scotland should do whatever London decides.

Nicola Sturgeon’s response was as sensible as the public has come to expect: “I’ve been very determined throughout this not to engage in partisan politics over this because I don’t think that is helpful to anybody. I am at a loss when I hear people say either we have to come out of lockdown in lockstep with the UK come what may, or, we have to do it on a Scotland-only basis come what may.

“Both of those are the wrong starting point. They start to sound as if you’re prioritising politics or ideology over what is right for suppressing the virus and reducing the harm it does to people.”

The best evidence in Scotland has led to the lockdown being extended by another three weeks and the “Stay at Home” message remaining “crucial”. At present, Scotland’s rate of Covid-19 community transmission, the important R number, is not far from one. Scotland is also a few weeks behind England in the virus infection curve. The First Minister is absolutely right to insist on these circumstances improving before changing the regulations in Scotland.

READ MORE: Angus Robertson: UK must do more for virus-hit firms before time runs out

While the importance of social distancing is critical, Downing Street spinners were suggesting that picnics and sunbathing in the park is on the cards just ahead of a bank holiday weekend. The populist press in England responded with front-page headlines saying the likes of “Hurrah! Lockdown Freedom Beckons” and “Happy Monday – Lockdown Joy Next Week”.

Meanwhile, one adviser to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said: “It’s really unhelpful to have bits and pieces of information leaked. They are going to have to undo, now, a lot of the damage”.

The mixed messages are a disaster, they are confusing and they are all of Downing Street’s making. Why on Earth should Scotland be in lockstep with this botched loosening of the lockdown? The lockdown has been extended in Scotland, Wales is focused on the R rate of transmission not rising and the Northern Irish Executive says there is “no headroom” to ease the lockdown.

READ MORE: Angus Robertson: The Covid-19 crisis has hit home with Jimmy Gordon’s death

Public reaction has been strongly in support of protecting public health. After the First Minister declared: “I will not be pressured into lifting restrictions prematurely”, author Emma Kennedy told her 197,000 followers on Twitter: “I’m just going to do what @nicolasturgeon advises. That’s it”.

Scottish football legend Steve Archibald (above) said: “Congrats @NicolaSturgeon in the way you are handling lockdown, we in Spain have just been lockdowned for another week, and we are 2-3 weeks ahead of you, so don’t be bullied by Downing St (so disappointing) and keep using your logical brain please #keepscotlandsafe.”

Earlier this week, new poll findings were released showing that three-quarters of people in Scotland think the Scottish Government is handling the coronavirus well. The strong approval rating was shared among Conservative and Labour voters, where 70% of both thought that the SNP Holyrood administration was doing well.

READ MORE: George Kerevan: MacNeil was right – Unionists insist on weaponising crisis

In contrast, UK Government handling of the crisis saw 47% thinking they were doing well with 48% badly.

Public opinion on Nicola Sturgeon making the right decisions on coronavirus saw a massive 71% of respondents having a lot or a fair amount of confidence in the First Minister, with only 23% saying they had not very much or no confidence.

This compares with 40% having a lot or fair amount of confidence in Boris Johnson with 55% have not very much or no confidence.

With such strong public support for the coronavirus approach of the Scottish Government in general and the First Minister in particular, Nicola Sturgeon should continue to do the right thing and put people’s health first.

With the UK sadly at the top of the Covid-19 death statistics in Europe, there can be no politicking at a time of extreme danger to people’s lives. What matters most is making the correct decisions, not being bound to a course of action that ignores the evidence.

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