Scotland and coronavirus – A catalogue of government failure

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister and SNP leader (photo: World News/Creative Commons)

The devastating impact of coronavirus in Scotland was underlined on 11 June when National Records of Scotland reported that 4,000 people had so far died from confirmed or suspected Covid-19.

Scotland’s ‘excess mortality’, while slightly less than the UK as a whole, is higher than any other nation in Europe.

Against that backdrop, a series of growing scandals is applying pressure on the Scottish government’s handling of the pandemic.

As the pro-independence columnist of the Herald newspaper, Neil Mackay, pointed out: “Lockdown came too late here – just as it did in England. Testing and tracing have been inadequate. It’s been a catalogue of one failure after another.”

A decade of austerity meant there has not been the capacity to “trace and protect” as an essential way of containing the virus. Scotland is currently only utilising one-third of its testing capacity. A decisive factor is shortages of staff to test and process the results quickly enough.

Scandalously, care home workers had to wait until 18 May for the government to agree that they could be tested – at least in theory. This was after the virus was already in 58% of Scottish care homes, with half of all deaths taking place in the care home setting.

Incredibly, the former chief medical officer for Scotland, Catherine Calderwood, said on 2 April that testing was a “distraction” and its use on a mass scale to contain the spread of the virus was a “fallacy”.

It’s clear that this prejudice against testing – against WHO advice – has crippled the Scottish government’s ability to deal with the virus.

Lockstep with Tories

The ruling Scottish National Party’s (SNP) first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, went in ‘lockstep’ with Boris Johnson’s delayed approach to lockdown.

Yet the Scottish death rate could have been reduced by 2,000 with an earlier lockdown.

The SNP’s health secretary, Jeanne Freeman, belatedly admitted that in March almost 1,000 elderly patients were transferred from hospitals to care homes without testing – a recipe for mass infection.

The policy was to clear hospitals of as many patients as possible in order to increase intensive care unit (ICU) capacity.

The lack of ICU beds is also a consequence of an NHS run down by cuts, which the SNP-led Scottish government carry a major responsibility for.

Sturgeon, sensing a coming storm, is on the retreat. She has now admitted that “in hindsight” these transfers were the wrong approach and will “haunt” her.

So why is Nicola Sturgeon not suffering the same dramatic falls in public support as her counterpart in Westminster, Boris Johnson?

In part, Johnson’s calamitous handling of the crisis, his defence of Dominic Cummings included, has allowed Sturgeon to appear more capable, and certainly a far better communicator. But this is not a high bar of comparison. As one worker told us: “It’s like offering up a choice between Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair”.

But while Sturgeon’s support is wide, it is not deep. And can turn into its opposite as the full consequences of the SNP government’s failures become clear.

Jobs tsunami

A jobs tsunami is set to hit Scottish workers over the summer. Ten per cent of all jobs are predicted to be lost, especially in hospitality and tourism which employ big numbers of young people.

Scottish councils are racking up huge debts. The SNP finance minister blurted out recently that without support from the UK government “the only way the Scottish government will be able to fund our ongoing response would be to make deep cuts to other services.”

This has been precisely the ‘pass the buck’ excuse that the SNP has used throughout the last decade of austerity as it has passed on Tory cuts. Any attempts to do so now, given the growing mood of working-class anger, is likely to provoke a huge backlash.

The anti-worker policy of the SNP was also witnessed recently when it voted with the Tories in the Scottish parliament to deny care workers in the private sector the right to collective bargaining on pay, and terms and conditions.

Thousands of young people have come out to protest the death of George Floyd and systemic racism in defiance of the Scottish government.

Another avenue for class anger following the Covid-19 crisis will be the national question. Support for independence is still at a record high, at just over 50%.

The SNP leadership called off the demand for an indyref this year – their focus is on winning a “pro-independence” majority in the 2021 Scottish elections.

However, an insurgent mood for independence among workers and young people facing an economic catastrophe could develop.

Mass protests and anti-capitalist social and economic demands would clash with Sturgeon’s pro-business policies. Her strategy of seeking a negotiated agreement with Boris Johnson for a second referendum will be exposed as incapable of overcoming the intransigence of the capitalist class.

Scottish Labour’s recent decision to adopt a cast-iron commitment to oppose a second referendum and Scottish independence will finish the party as far as the working class in Scotland is concerned. The building of a mass workers’ party, based on the trade unions and young people, to fight for a socialist society, is an essential task.

Socialist Party Scotland demands:

  • A workers’ and trade union inquiry into the Covid-19 disaster
  • Bring the care homes and all care services into public ownership under democratic working-class and community control
  • Trade unions must demand no return to work until safe. Full pay for all workers facing job losses
  • Nationalise those companies threatening closures
  • For an independent socialist Scotland and a voluntary socialist confederation with England, Wales and Ireland

Celebrating a decade of building a fighting, socialist internationalist party in Scotland

Socialist Party Scotland is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Launched at a public meeting in Glasgow on 10 June 2010, we have over the last decade continued the pioneering work of our predecessor organisations, which includes Militant, Scottish Militant Labour and the International Socialists.

Over those ten years, there have been many highlights, including helping to build and popularise a fighting no-cuts policy throughout the decade of austerity.

We have:

  • Stood in various national elections on a 100% no cuts platform as part of the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition throughout the decade.
  • Backed Jeremy Corbyn against the Blairites but continued to call for the building a new, mass workers’ party in Scotland.
  • Participated in, and in some areas, helped lead the historic 30 November 2011 pensions public sector strike.
  • Organised a school strike in Dundee in 2011 against cuts to education.
  • Led the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign and organised the March for Jobs in Scotland in 2012 from Stirling to Glasgow.
  • Played a leading role in the anti-Bedroom Tax campaign, which eventually saw the tax fully mitigated in Scotland.
  • Helped pioneer the socialist campaign for independence during the 2014 indyref, fighting for an independent socialist Scotland.
  • Played a leading role in the trade union movement in Scotland and helped to shape a fighting policy for workers.
  • Supported scores of workers’ strikes over the decade, including the Dundee hospital porters and Glasgow homelessness case workers.
  • Been centrally involved in the inspiring and historic strike for equal pay in Glasgow in 2018 – which saw working-class women win a huge victory for pay justice.
  • Helped to organise a series of events against violence against women.
  • Took part in all the major climate protests in Scotland with the slogan – ‘Socialist Change not Climate Change’.
  • Produced many pamphlets and publications, that included the ‘Red Flag Over the Clyde’ to mark 100th anniversary of Red Clydeside.
  • Throughout the coronavirus crisis, we have championed the demands for full pay for all workers, no return to work until safe, full PPE and mass testing.
  • Just a few days ago, we participated in the inspiring Black Lives Matter protests in Scotland, receiving huge support for our socialist and anti-racist demands.
  • Together with the Committee for a Workers’ International, we fought to defend Marxism and Trotskyism under challenging conditions. But these ideas are now essential to face up to the unprecedented economic and social crisis facing world capitalism.

Forward to the next decade and to a socialist world!

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June 2020