Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Basic Geometry for Politicians

Nicola Sturgeon doesn't seem to be very good at maths or science but that doesn't stop her trying to get Head Teachers to square a circle and pour a quart into a pint pot (1.14 litres into a 568ml pot for the young amongst us). She's absolutely wedded to the 2m social distancing rule and so schools have been planning the return of pupils on that basis. Basic geometry dictates that if pupils have to stay 2m apart from each other and the teacher, the maximum class size in an average classroom will be 10 instead of 30. That's why so many schools were, until yesterday, planning on having pupils back one week in three. John Swinney had even invented a term for it - 'blended learning'. Now teachers have had to go back to the drawing board because our populist First Minister realised yesterday morning that the Education Minister's plan was not going down well. You've heard of pester power. Now we have parent power and a hashtag #usforthemScotland. We even have a former First Minister wading into the row.

The result of all this is that Nicola has now learned what happens when two objects collide - the smaller one goes into reverse. Forgetting the 2m rule, Sturgeon now wants kids back at school full-time as soon as possible. If only she wanted businesses back open as quickly, but then economics is another of her weak points. It's not wrong for a politician to listen to people, or for parents to want their kids back at school, but full-time education for all plus 2m separation is an unsolvable equation. Even 1m social distancing makes it impossible. So which is it going to be First Minister? School or social distancing? Calton awaits the answer with interest, as will many businesses.

Friday, 5 June 2020

Angels and Demons

Some time ago, when Jackie Baillie was Shadow Health Minister, Calton took a pop at her for being overweight in a blog post entitled Where Angels Fear to Tread... Well, Jackie is looking pretty angelic now in comparison with current Health Minister Jeane Freeman.

This is the woman who (deliberately in Calton's opinion) tried to mislead the Scottish Parliament over the number of NHS patients transferred from hospitals to care homes at the start of the Covid-19 crisis. She had to apologise. Nicola Sturgeon made excuses for her, saying that she was 'tired'.

Under Freeman's direction the Scottish Government bought up care home beds in order to empty hospital wards. What they failed to do was to ensure that the care homes had adequate PPE and adequate staff to deal with a highly infectious respiratory virus. It took weeks and numerous awkward questions from journalists at Sturgeon's daily briefings before Jeane got her act together with respect to PPE for care homes. At time of writing, the Scottish Government has still not got its act together with respect to regular testing of care home staff, in spite of Nicola Sturgeon announcing two weeks ago that this would happen. Freeman has also still not sorted out the problem of care home staff having to survive on statutory sick pay if they test positive.

Early Scottish Government guidance to care homes and the GPs who look after them said that it was not advised that patients with Covid-19 should be transferred to hospital but be cared for in the care home.  This was subsequently amended but only after the Scottish Government realised that the general population actually care about their old folks and want them to receive the best of care, including hospital treatment when required. How many care home residents could have survived the virus if the early guidance had not stipulated that they be refused transfer to hospital? The blanket issuing of DNRs (Do Not Resuscitate notices) in care homes, sometimes to people without capacity to agree them is also a real cause for concern.

Freeman has defended her actions in the ongoing coronavirus care home deaths scandal, saying that she did her best with the information available at the time. Even if this is true, her best was not good enough. People have died on her watch, some of them unnecessarily. Surely that is grounds for her resignation. Sadly there is no-one of Jackie Baillie's calibre in the SNP to replace Jeane.

PS. When she became Health Minister Jeane said she was going to lead by example and give up the fags. Is she still smoke-free?

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Douglas Ross Gets It

When Calton wrote his post on exceptionalism, Dominic Cummings had been the one trying to keep on so-called superforecaster Andrew Sabisky in the light of unsavoury revelations about the latter. Now Cummings has become the story after revelations about his trip to Durham during lockdown and Boris Johnson is desperately trying to keep him on in the face of mounting opposition, not just from the opposition but from members of his own party. Just as Nicola Sturgeon's attempts to keep on Catherine Calderwood made her look weak, so Johnson's attempts are opening him up to ridicule and raising the question of who really governs the country. They also make him look weak.

Cummings has defended his actions in a painful, hour-long press briefing yesterday but a scan through Calton's social media feeds shows very little sympathy for him. He may not have broken the letter of the law but most people feel that he has definitely broken the spirit of it, and the strong government message to stay at home and not undertake any unnecessary journeys. Indeed, at time of writing, that is still the message in Scotland, as Sturgeon was quick to point out in her briefing yesterday.

If the highly unusual briefing by Cummings was intended to draw a line under the affair it has utterly failed, with Moray MP and junior government minister Douglas Ross resigning today and various Scottish Tory MSPs making their fury known. Even Jackson Carlaw has eventually been forced into saying that Cummings should consider his position. Not only has the Domnishambles eclipsed the UK Government's message on Coronavirus, it is preventing the Scots Tories from taking the SNP to task over their poor handling of the crisis in Scotland and is threatening their chances in the Holyrood election scheduled for next year.

Douglas Ross gets that rules apply to everyone without exception, even to pals of the PM. Boris doesn't get it and his ratings are plummeting as a result.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Something Rotten in the State of Scotland

There is something rotten at the heart of Scottish politics. Health Minister Jeane Freeman deliberately (in Calton's opinion) misled the Scottish parliament and people with regard to the number of delayed discharge (bed-blocking) patients discharged into care homes since the Covid-19 crisis began. She was forced to apologise and put the record straight after pressure from The Sun newspaper. However she still has the full confidence of the First Minister and, when Jackson Carlaw queried whether anyone else could have confidence in her, he was accused of playing politics in the midst of a crisis. Not something Nicola Sturgeon would ever do, no siree. She's totally focussed on dealing with the Coronavirus threat and if her daily appearances on the telly with not a hair out of place enhance the prospects of a future independent Scotland that is entirely by-the-by.

Accusing the Scottish Tories of being party political was obviously the message de jour from SNP HQ because John Swinney (suitably outraged) used it on Radio Scotland this morning to avoid answering the same question of whether the public could trust a word Jeane Freeman says and Sturgeon was back at it later in an attack on Ruth Davidson, who had dared to criticise the Dear Leader. Nicola is very good at telling us that she is above all these petty considerations and is just getting on with the job. Except that she isn't. Was there ever a Scottish Executive which executed less, and with more moolah from Westminster, than this pathetic excuse for a government? They are still in lockstep with Westminster, except that now they are three steps behind, and they've already had to row back on the stipulation that you only travel 5 miles to visit relatives (once you are allowed to) after a twitter backlash. Now it seems you can go further, provided your bladder has a good mpg.

If it wasn't so serious it would be funny. Scotland's tourist and hospitality industries are facing disaster, we are seeing around 50 excess deaths a week caused by lockdown, not Covid-19, and the First Minister is worried about whether or not you might need to visit the loo if you visit your parents. Maybe she should try treating us like grown-ups. Maybe she and her ministers should also try being honest and straight with the Scottish people they claim to serve. Then we might have confidence in what they say.

Monday, 18 May 2020

No-one Said It Would Be Easy

In his last post Calton talked about Nicola Sturgeon making decisions in good faith. Now he just wishes she would actually MAKE a decision. Instead, we were told today, not that some lockdown restrictions would be eased, but that we would be given a route map. On Thursday. The century is young but Calton thinks that this will still qualify as one of its biggest let-downs. On that basis, don't hold your breath for any of the teasingly promised relaxations to actually happen at the end of the month. That would involve Sturgeon actually making a decision, something which she seems increasingly incapable of doing. Think rabbit caught in headlights.

No-one ever said that being a leader was easy but, boy, this virus has a way of separating the women from the girls. The First Minister is the queen of spin but events are spinning out of control and her inability to lead is being exposed. As journalist Paul Sinclair so aptly put it: "If only we had an FM trained to govern rather than just media trained." Ouch. Brutal but true. There are no easy answers in this current situation. Covid-19 causes deaths and long-term ill-health in some people. Lockdown also causes deaths and ill-health plus bankruptcies, job losses and financial hardship. The risks have to be weighed up and balanced. Then a decision needs to be made. Nicola has got stuck at the first step. In a time of crisis Scotland is being led by a frightened little girl. How did we get ourselves into this mess?


Tuesday, 12 May 2020

On Accountability

Throughout this Covid-19 crisis, Nicola Sturgeon's attitude has been one of barely concealed irritation at anyone, journalist or politician, who dared criticise her handling of it. She has repeatedly talked about an inquiry afterwards when lessons can be learned but, at the moment, just let her get on with making decisions, which affect us all hugely, without question. Her hubris is incredible. Calton knows that a lot of her followers think she's a saint who can do no wrong and it seems that she has bought into their hype. Unfortunately the opposition parties at Holyrood bought into the idea that we all need to pull together in a pandemic and that criticism of any sort would be bad form, so for weeks Queen Nicola has been calling the shots and no-one has dared to gainsay her.

Thankfully Jackson Carlaw has finally woken up and seen sense. At a time of national crisis it is vitally important that the decisions of those who lead us are subjected to scrutiny. It is not a sign of disloyalty or disunity to do so. Calton would go as far as saying it is actually a civic duty to question our leaders. It may come as news to Nicola but no-one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Hence the need for accountability. Journalists have been trying to hold the First Minister to account at her daily briefings but without the chance to reply to her (non) answers, their teeth have been drawn. The whole thing is staged to make Sturgeon look good.

Calton has no doubt that Nicola Sturgeon has made decisions in good faith in this difficult situation but that does not mean that they were, or will continue to be, the right decisions. We are a democracy not a dictatorship. It's time the Scottish Parliament played its part in the decision-making process. Hopefully today's parliamentary session will be just the start of that, because it seems that Sturgeon needs reminding on a daily basis that she is not God.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

The Problem with Care Homes

In one of her lunchtime briefings this week Nicola Sturgeon pointed out, rather pointedly, that most care homes are private businesses. Calton thinks that she was trying to suggest that they pull their weight in the current crisis. Chutzpah on stilts. Here's why:

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Scotland's care homes were underfunded. This is because local councils do not pay enough to cover the cost of care for those who are not self-funded. They are subsidised by those who are paying for their care out of their savings or the sale of their home. If the ratio of council-funded clients to self-funded clients in a home gets too large the home becomes financially unviable. If a care home becomes financially unviable it may have to close. For years the Scottish Government has been cutting the cash it gives to local councils, causing them in turn to look for savings in things like the cost of care, so the buck stops with the First Minister here.

In normal times, care homes manage infectious diseases like norovirus and they use disposable gloves and aprons, which they procure like any other business on the open market. Now they have been faced with a new, highly infectious, respiratory infection which also requires the use of face masks at time when there is a world-wide shortage of all PPE and associated price-hiking. This is costing them extra, unexpected expenditure when they are already cash-strapped (see above). Health Secretary Jeane Freeman patted herself on the back recently because she had distributed one week's worth of PPE to every care home in Scotland. One week's worth!!! I'm sure it was welcome but it's hardly going to plug the ongoing hole in the dyke!

Care homes have also been asked to take a lot of extra residents at short notice recently as the NHS cleared out its hospitals in preparation for an influx of Covid-19 patients. This was a huge transfer of liability from the state-funded NHS to the private sector. None of these patients were tested for the virus for the first few weeks. Now we have a massive problem with Covid-19 in Scotland's care homes, including one on Skye. Oh but never mind - according to Nicola Sturgeon they are private businesses who need to step up to the plate. Problem solved.

Sturgeon's comments were in response to a journalist pointing out that many private care homes are on their knees and may not survive the current crisis. What Sturgeon needs to realise, and realise fast, is that care homes are essential businesses. ESSENTIAL. If the Scottish Government can find the cash to prop up Prestwick and Ferguson, it should find the cash to support our care homes. Otherwise where are the residents still left after Covid-19 has done its worst going to live?

Monday, 13 April 2020

Let the Scottish Government be the Baddie

Although Calton now lives in Edinburgh he grew up on the west coast of Scotland and still has relatives in the Highlands, some of whom earn their livings through tourism. So he has a dog in the fight when it comes to Covid-19 and its effect on the Highlands and Islands. He understands the concern of those who live there when faced with an influx of sasunnachs wanting to escape the virus. Unfortunately the way that concern has been expressed runs the risk of doing long-term damage to the industry which many in the Highlands depend on. Hand-made posters saying "tourists go home" will not be forgotten once this pandemic is over and neither will flat motorhome tyres. Visitors were not buying up all the food in the shops - the locals were managing to do that for themselves quite nicely well before Easter and the traditional influx of tourists (which the shops are geared up to cater for). Fears that sick visitors would swamp local health services were legitimate but, here's the thing, this should have been addressed by the Scottish Government, that SNP Government voted in by a majority of the Highlands, and not left to individuals or communities to deal with themselves.

The Scottish Government closed the schools on Friday 20th March, the forecast for that weekend was superb and yet those in power didn't seem to realise that a considerable number of people might, quite literally, head for the hills (or at least the carpark at Nevis Range). It wasn't until Sunday 22nd that the Government announced a ban on non-essential travel, including travel to second homes, and even then, their Chief Medical Officer thought that the advice was optional. That left vulnerable rural communities across Scotland unprotected for two whole days. It's not surprising that some of them decided to take the law into their own hands but it was extremely unfortunate and unwise.

Now that the travel ban is in place and is being enforced by Police Scotland, Calton would like to see all the unwelcoming signs taken down. Let the Scottish Government and the Police be the baddies, not local people. That's the smarter way to handle this. Covid-19 is decimating the tourist industry right now but it won't last long. A bad reputation will last a lot longer and the effect on the Highlands will be much deeper.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

On Competence

Calton has no doubt that the First Minister was sincere when she said how much she supported health care workers and wanted them to have the correct PPE in her press briefing today. Unfortunately sincerity doesn't provide PPE - competence does and Nicola Sturgeon is a bit short on that quality. She's great at presentation and carefully crafted speeches - her responses are slicker than her hairdo and more pointed than her shoes - but this Covid-19 crisis is showing her up for what she is - all fur coat and nae knickers.

What Scotland needs right now is a leader who gets things done. What we've got is someone who talks the talk but can't walk the walk. Nicola Sturgeon is all show, from the top of her immaculate hairdo to the tips of her stiletto heels. When she was Health Minister some described her as a helicopter - landing with lots of noise and disturbance, staying for a few minutes then taking off again in a flurry of rotor blades. Now we have Jeane Freeman who has provided guidance about what PPE to use and a helpline to report it if you don't have PPE but doesn't actually seem to have managed to provide PPE. Less helicopter more submarine, sinking without trace when what the troops need is a Hercules, full of supplies.

Sturgeon's response to a letter from 100 medics about PPE was basically "I understand and I will act". If she doesn't do the latter and do it soon, she and her Health Minister will look like WW1 generals, miles behind the front line, saying everything is fine when thousands are dying. It's not a good look.


Monday, 6 April 2020

The Smell of Exceptionalism

Since Catherine Calderwood is obviously an intelligent woman, Calton is diagnosing her deliberate flouting of the lockdown travel laws not just once, but twice, as a bad case of elitism. Nicola Sturgeon, on the other hand, is suffering from a bad case of exceptionalism. Just as the Prime Minister and other Tories defended Priti Patel on the grounds that she was doing a jolly good job, and Dominic Cummings overlooked the dubious online background of Andrew Sabisky because he was a "superforecaster", so the First Minister tried to keep on CMO Calderwood because seemingly she couldn't do without her and, of course, she was doing a jolly good job. Big mistake.

The current extreme restrictions being placed on the general public rely on the idea that we're all in this together. There can be no exceptions, none whatsoever, because if a single exception is allowed, others will follow. It is an unfortunate British trait that quite a lot of us think that rules are good but they don't apply to us. We all have a tendency to think we are the exception. Police Scotland get this, which is why they didn't waste time hot-footing it round to Calderwood's residence to 'have a word'. Nicola Sturgeon doesn't get this. Even at today's press conference, when specifically asked about the damage done to the Government's message and the need to rebuild trust, she didn't get it. Instead, although she was more in control today, the image of her as a wee girl who can't bear to be parted from her best friend lingers. She didn't show leadership yesterday - she stalled, prevaricated and, finally, about 12 hours too late, reacted to public opinion.

No-one has put a smell on Sturgeon - they don't need to. She reeks of exceptionalism with a whiff of cronyism and fear.

PS. And lest anyone accuse Calton of having  it in for Sturgeon, he's also extremely suspicious of the haste in which more than one Tory MSP, including Jackson Carlaw, is seeking to draw a line under this whole sorry affair. Are there some Tory-voting second home owners thinking "there but for the grace of God" and changing their plans for this coming weekend?