Sturgeon explains things to Richard Leonard verrrrrry sloooooowly

Tracking coronavirus? There’s an app for that.

First Minister’s Questions was buzzing about the new technological doohickey intended to save us all from Covid-19.

What the Protect Scotland app couldn’t do is save us from a major reversal of lockdown: meetings, indoors and out, would be cut to only six people across two households. Or a Scottish Lib Dem conference, to use the technical term.

Nicola Sturgeon was visibly burdened by the weight of the decisions she is having to take. She accepted they were ‘hard for people to hear’ and there was a sincerity in her expression. An entire country goes to work or stays at home on her word. ‘Unfortunately, the virus does not respond to government instruction,’ she lamented. So it’s not an SNP backbencher, then.

Ruth Davidson, who had downloaded the app and urged others to do likewise, noted not everyone is au fait with apps. ‘What is being done to ensure that everybody, including those hardest to reach, is being helped to adopt this new technology?’ she asked.

The answer, in another note of bipartisanship, was essentially: you’ve got a point there. Sturgeon sought to reassure those who don’t while away their time in the App Store, saying they would still be served by the Test and Protect system.

Anyone who tested positive would get a phone call from a contact tracer and be asked to provide the names of everyone they’ve been in contact with. Love-rat husbands across the land are about to suddenly misplace their smartphones.

Getting a phone call about your recent movements does seem a little meddlesome. There should be a single call to ask about your contacts, your missold PPI and imaginary accidents that weren’t your fault.

The First Minister started out by telling MSPs that 150,000 people had downloaded the app, then gave a running total throughout FMQs.

During an exchange with Patrick Harvie, she updated the figure to 200,000, then 250,000 while answering David Torrance’s question about the privacy implications of the app. It was like Children In Need, and given how much broadcast time the BBC affords her these days, she may end up presenting that too.

Labour MSPs looked more in need than most. Their alleged leader Richard Leonard had come armed with a killer statistic: ‘In Scotland’s testing strategy, published only last month, the government said that its target is to have a daily testing capacity of 65,000. Yesterday, only 14,341 tests were carried out.’

His righteous neck jab was in full tilt – imagine a chicken just back from its first Socialist Workers’ Party meeting – and his voice coated in the hollow emotionalism he struggles to feign. Boy, had he got her now.

‘I am going to try not to be too technical here,’ Sturgeon began. Ruh-roh.

She teed up the point that you’ve probably already spotted: ‘Those are tests carried out, not capacity,’ she explained.

This was more generous than she needed to be. Somehow the leader of an actual political party – okay, Scottish Labour, but still – had made it all the way through FMQs prep without noticing that capacity and demand are two different things.

Sturgeon had let him off the hook somewhat but, to the horror of those sitting behind him, he leapt right back on it: ‘I thank the First Minister for that answer, although I reflect that the actual number of tests carried out yesterday… is still 50,000 below the target figure.’

Sturgeon had the expression of a teacher whose mouth is saying ‘That’s not quite the right answer, Timmy’ while her mind is thinking: ‘This is a special one’.

She tried again: ‘The figure that Richard Leonard quoted… is the demand figure. it is demand-led… I know that such things are complex.’

Labour MSPs looked glum. Their leader is hopeless but they can’t get rid of him. If only there was an app for that.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters:

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