Missed opportunities: why we don’t have a Zero Covid Scotland

19 November 2020

This article originally appeared on the ZeroCovid website and was written by Leslie Cunningham.

The Scottish Government has devolved control of health services in Scotland, so is ultimately responsible for what is done (or is not done) to save lives and control the spread of Covid-19 in this country.

While it is true that Nicola Sturgeon and her government have managed to achieve arguably greater engagement with the population, to appear more sympathetic, and to act less punitively regarding lockdown compliance, this has been largely a cosmetic exercise. In actual fact, the situation in Scotland throughout the pandemic has been little better than in England, and arguably is now worse than in Northern Ireland.

Following Westminster’s mis-lead

In fact, the Scottish Government’s pandemic policy has generally been to hang on to the coat tails of the UK government, with predictably disastrous consequences, Leaving the virus to spread unchecked until March 23, allowing private companies to carry out testing and tracing (or fail to), etc, and failing to address the obvious problem of infected people travelling between England and Scotland during the summer holidays are all examples of serious errors of judgement by our Government.

One of the greatest scandals is the result of the outsourcing of care home provision: effectively, Scottish taxpayers are paying private companies to profit from the ‘care’ of vulnerable elderly people by overworked, underpaid, and under-protected staff. The thousands of unnecessary deaths in care homes is not due to the virus alone, but to the Scottish Government (not for the first time) valuing profit more than ordinary people’s lives.

Failures of the asylum system

The (mis)treatment of asylum seekers in Scotland is equally shocking, needlessly forcing people to leave their homes, putting them in hotel accommodation (putting more money in the pockets of private companies, such as the Mears Group), denying them access to proper medical help and emotional support, and using the fact that they were being supplied with (often inadequate and culturally inappropriate) food as an excuse to deprive them of the measly £5.33 a day they normally receive. Is it any wonder that tragedies such as the death of Mercy Baguma happen? But behind the few cases that made the headlines, there are many more unreported examples of unnecessary suffering which could have been prevented.

Finally, the ‘chopping and changing’ regarding lockdown regulations in recent weeks, and the decision taken by the Scottish Government to reopen schools and other educational institutions after the summer holidays, have exacerbated an already critical situation. Nicola Sturgeon might have acted a few weeks before Boris Johnson, but it was still too little, too late.

Dependence on big business

It has been suggested that the Scottish Government was reluctant to take more decisive measures independently of the ‘lead’ shown by the UK Government because this would have been seen as ‘flagging up independence’. Well, the Scottish National Party (SNP) is supposed to want an independent Scotland, so wouldn’t a successful Zero Covid strategy by a Scottish Government with an SNP majority have convinced many Scottish people that leaving the Union would be a good idea?

The sad fact is that the Scottish Government and the SNP – with some very honourable exceptions – are terrified of upsetting big business, Just remember the ‘Trump golf course’ constructed on a former Site of Special Scientific Interest in Aberdeenshire, and the fact that private firms are allowed to profit from NHS Scotland car parks. Whisky is the greatest source of income for the Scottish economy, followed by tourism (largely non-existent in 2020, apart from visits by rich people, such as Boris Johnson) but Scotland is also home to many large financial organisations and produces most of the arms manufactured in the UK.

The potential for a new strategy

All is not lost, however. The launch of the Zero Covid campaign on Monday November 9, and a number of small, physically distanced protests on its National Day of Action on Saturday November 14, including one outside the Scottish Parliament, show that another approach is possible and, if a powerful grassroots movement grows rapidly, the Scottish Government will be forced to take the necessary measures to eliminate Covid-19. But it is essential that this is a democratic process, not a top-down approach which lets big business and employers off the hook while demonising ordinary people. People in Scotland must rally round Zero Covid and its Find, Trace, Test, Isolate and Support strategy, and demand that the Scottish Government does all five in a thorough, humane and transparent manner – the ‘Support’ element has been notably lacking in its approach so far.

Let’s remember this: It’s Covid-19, not Covid-21!

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