Nicola Sturgeon faced opposition leaders at First Minister’s Questions on February 17, 2021. This is the text of my Scottish Daily Mail sketch of proceedings.
Achilles had his heel, Superman his Kryptonite and Nicola Sturgeon the merest chance of accountability. Scrutiny is the First Minister’s greatest weakness. She reacts to it like Count Dracula to garlic bread.
Ruth Davidson served up an extra large slice of interrogation at FMQs, majoring on an Audit Scotland report critical of the Scottish Government’s lack of pandemic preparation.
The Tory leader cited planning exercises beginning in 2015 that resulted in 52 recommendations. ‘How many of those recommendations had been implemented by the Scottish Government by March 2020?’ she enquired.
Sturgeon shot back that the training exercises were for a ‘flu pandemic’ rather than a SARs pandemic. If they’d just called it an ‘indyref2 pandemic’ they might have caught her attention.
Davidson focused in on the failure to keep medics stocked up on PPE, adding: ‘We simply should not have had National Health Service staff being forced to work without adequate protection, reusing masks and having to beg for donations because PPE was not in place.’
There was a sliver of contempt in her voice.
‘I do not accept Ruth Davidson’s characterisation and I do not believe that it bears scrutiny,’ Sturgeon riposted. ‘Scotland has never, not once, throughout the entire pandemic run out of PPE.’
That’s true, provided you count out-of-date PPE. A mouldy loaf is still technically a loaf.
Davidson had her woman but there was no zip of excitement, none of the punchy energy that used to mark her sparring sessions with the First Minister. It’s obvious she has already moved on in her heart and is now just going through the motions.
’The First Minister stands there telling us that there was no issue with PPE last year,’ the Edinburgh Central MSP glowered. ‘Perhaps she wants to tell that to Scotland’s nurses, half of whom told the Royal College of Nursing that they had been forced to reuse single-use protection.’
Here, she twisted the shiv:
‘The Scottish Government is now reviewing the guidance, but it is far too late for too many grieving families. Is it not just a fact that had the First Minister and her government acted sooner… some lives in those care homes could have been saved?’
Oooft, as the kids say.
Sturgeon’s accounting for herself was robotic. ‘Again, I say no — I do not accept that,’ she responded, as if Davidson had just accused her of tanning the Holyrood biscuit tin rather than sending grannies to an early grave. The fight has not left Sturgeon but she could not summon it for this joust. Perhaps her instincts have been blunted by a lack of challenging voices in her vicinity.
Surrounded all day by taxpayer-funded special advisors whose primary job is positive re-enforcement, Sturgeon has no one to act as a thoughtful critic. Peter Murrell could do it, I suppose, but everyone knows the head of the SNP and the head of the Scottish Government never discuss the SNP or the Scottish Government.
Labour’s interim leader Jackie Baillie was even less delicate: ‘The First Minister had warning after warning after warning, so was her failure to act negligence or incompetence?’
Indignation gripped the corners of Sturgeon’s mouth: ‘I am not even going to respond to that, because it is actually quite demeaning — not to me, but to the people across government and across the country who have worked every single day to try to deal with the crisis.’
The First Minister couldn’t get PPE to nurses but she’s always got a human shield on hand when she needs one.
Baillie dismissed Sturgeon’s demagoguery and told her to ‘stop hiding behind’ NHS staff, jabbing: ‘Do not just clap for health and social care workers; listen and act when they ask for enhanced PPE.’
Sturgeon clambered for the moral high ground, preaching in vicarly tones to ‘engage properly on such matters, rather than just chuck soundbites across a parliamentary chamber’. This from someone who chucked enough soundbites in opposition to qualify for the Olympic javelin finals.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters [insert @ symbol] dailymail.co.uk.