Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Stunning telephone poll finds almost TWO-THIRDS of the Scottish public want a second independence referendum

There's been a fair bit of polling news in the last 24 hours. Ben Page of Ipsos-Mori tweeted another finding from the telephone poll conducted in the middle of this month - it shows that 63% of the Scottish public want a second independence referendum to take place at some point, and only 34% don't. That's essentially a two-to-one margin after Don't Knows are excluded. 53% want an indyref within the next five years, and 34% want it within the next two years. I think that's highly significant - by mid-May we were very deep into the worst international crisis since the Second World War, and yet clearly that hadn't deterred people from the thought of making a choice about a big constitutional change. Indeed, I'm sure for some people that change may now seem even more urgent.

(Incidentally, Ben Page subsequently deleted his tweet, so I'm not sure if he accidentally broke his own firm's embargo.)

There's also a GB-wide YouGov poll showing a collapse in the Tory lead from fifteen points to six. Given that Keir Starmer's personal ratings suggest the public are warming to the new Labour leader in spite of his lack of charisma, I suspect the Labour resurgence south of the border could be here to stay, and may have further to run. So the big question for the SNP is whether they can hold their commanding lead in Scotland in a new environment where Labour look like credible long-term challengers for power. So far, they're managing to do so, if the Scottish subsample from the poll is to be believed -

SNP 54%, Conservatives 20%, Labour 16%, Greens 4%, Liberal Democrats 3%, Brexit Party 1%

Scottish Labour will doubtless be banking on a turnaround once the crisis subsides and Nicola Sturgeon no longer has the advantage of being a 'war leader'. But they shouldn't make any assumptions - there have been spells since the autumn of 2014 when Labour looked like serious contenders under both Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn, but the SNP have maintained some sort of lead throughout.

*  *  *

A few people (maybe four or five) have suggested that I should commission another opinion poll on independence soon.  I was initially surprised by the idea, because of course there was a Panelbase poll on independence commissioned by Wings extremely recently.  However, that was pre-Cummings, and the theory is that there may have been a boost for Yes as a result of that lovely day out in Barnard Castle.  To be honest, I'm not at all sure whether it's a good idea to be attempting a crowdfunder in the middle of a pandemic when people are struggling so much, but if anyone has any strong views on the subject, feel free to leave a comment below, and I'll assess whether there's enough appetite for it.  Bear in mind that there's never any way of knowing when an independence poll might suddenly pop up in a newspaper anyway.

There might well be a more optimal moment later in the year, but I've got an open mind, so let me know what you think.

*  *  *

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Carlaw left with nowhere to go, as new Scottish poll reveals a severe lack of confidence in London's handling of the crisis, and almost total backing for the Scottish Government's approach

The BBC have a policy of never commissioning voting intention polls - and they don't really report on other outlets' voting intention polls either.  (The latter is a relatively recent development - I remember when I was growing up there used to be a polling round-up every night on the news during general election campaigns, but at some point it was decided that was too much of a distraction from the issues.)  It's become increasingly rare for them to commission polls on any point of political controversy at all, so when they make an exception it's not unreasonable for people to ask: why now?  Or even: what are they up to?  I've heard some suggestions that the new BBC Scotland poll on the handling of the current crisis by the Scottish Government and the UK Government was commissioned with the hope of getting bad numbers for the Scottish Government, or at least to produce the headline that "the two governments are as bad as each other".  That may well be too cynical - it may have been commissioned with a totally open mind.  However, BBC Scotland do have a track record in recent years of crusading campaigns against the Scottish Government (most notably on the NHS), and no equivalent campaigns against the UK Government - in spite of the fact that we're always being reminded that "Scotland has two governments".  So perhaps a touch of cynicism can be forgiven.

Whatever the motivation, though, the poll turned out to be dreamland stuff for Nicola Sturgeon, and nothing short of catastrophic for Boris Johnson and the Tory government in London.  55% of respondents in Scotland think Johnson has handled the crisis badly, and only 30% think he has handled it well.  The numbers for the UK government are broadly similar - 51% badly, 34% well.  Those are extraordinary findings at a time when governing parties all over the world are enjoying a polling boost due to the 'rally around the flag' effect.  What makes it even worse is that the fieldwork for the poll preceded the Cummings controversy, so in all likelihood the numbers in a poll conducted now would be far more dire for Johnson.

By contrast, the Scottish Government's handling of the crisis enjoys backing that is as close to total as you'll ever see in any poll.  82% of respondents feel that Nicola Sturgeon has handled it well, and only 8% think she has handled it badly.  For the Scottish Government as a whole, the figures are 78% well, 11% badly.

The Scottish Tories have been trying to chip away at the Scottish Government by criticising any divergence from London, on the grounds that it causes "confusion" - but the poll leaves no room for doubt that such a line of attack is completely misconceived.  An overwhelming 81% think Scotland should come out of lockdown at a different time from the rest of the UK if deemed necessary.  And on specific measures where there is already a divergence between London and Edinburgh, public opinion strongly favours the more cautious Scottish approach - there's clear opposition to the reopening of non-essential shops, and to the reopening of schools before summer.  

The vast majority (70%) think that lockdown didn't happen soon enough.  That can be seen as a criticism of both governments, although from the other numbers it's reasonable to infer that London is taking the lion's share of the blame.  (And rightly so, given the Scottish Government's limited legal powers until late March.)

The obvious lesson is that the Scottish Tories would have been far better advised to stick with a national-unity-at-Scottish-level approach.  They could have portrayed themselves as part of a cross-party 'Team Scotland' and demonstrated that they are not merely a branch office of a London party.  Instead they've let themselves become associated with a deeply unpopular London policy, while being seen to be opposed to a wildly popular Scottish policy.  From a strategic point of view, it really doesn't get much worse than that.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

48 hours that prove the unelected Dominic Cummings is running Britain like a Mafia boss

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Some unsolicited advice for the new pro-indy party: "get on or get out"

Last September, I said that I didn't think there was any need or space for a new pro-indy party to put up list candidates against the SNP and the Greens. But I added that if such a party were to be formed, it needed to meet two conditions -

"1) A party that exists for reasons other than perceived tactical advantage. If your Party Election Broadcast is an embarrassing three minute monologue about the d'Hondt formula, you're going wrong somewhere.

2) A party that is not organised on the Il Duce principle. Any party with aspirations to hold the balance of power in our national parliament must be controlled by its members, rather than being the personal possession of its founder - regardless of the magnetic hold that individual may have on his followers."

In fairness, I get the impression that the new ISP (which stands for Independence for Scotland Party, and not Internet Service Provider) will meet the second condition. It seems like a fairly collegiate outfit, and although I'm not entirely sure of the process by which Colette Walker was selected as leader, I would imagine that's merely an interim arrangement and that there'll be a democratic internal vote at some point. But the signs are not so good as far as the first condition is concerned. Ms Walker's article in The National contained the usual bogus claims about the Holyrood electoral system that are so familiar to us from a million RISE press releases in 2016. Even more troublingly, a strong sense of entitlement came through from the article, as if the SNP somehow owed smaller pro-indy parties a favour and should get out of the way by no longer actively seeking votes on the regional list ballot. We should be extremely thankful that the SNP didn't go down that road in 2011, because without the sixteen list seats they won in that election, there would have been no overall majority and quite possibly no independence referendum in 2014. Even the four list seats they currently hold are a crucial component of the pro-indy majority at Holyrood. If too many SNP voters were to drift off to fringe parties on the list next year, that could in the nightmare scenario lead to a unionist majority.

I was accused in 2016 of wildly underestimating the potential of RISE to win list seats. As it turned out, I hadn't underestimated them at all, and they didn't come within light-years of taking even a single seat. History is repeating itself now and I'm being accused of underestimating the ISP - and I fully expect to be proved right once again. But let's suppose for the sake of argument that I'm wrong and that the ISP do have some sort of chance of clearing the de facto threshold of 5% and thus winning list seats. If there's any possibility of that, it should start showing up in opinion polls over the coming months - and I must emphasise that I'm talking about credible opinion polls that give parity of esteem to all parties, rather than Mickey Mouse poll questions that ask "would you consider voting for this party?" If by the end of the year the ISP are polling at, say, 7% or 8% on the standard voting intention question, they'll be perfectly entitled to conclude they have a fighting chance of winning seats and could end up helping the cause of independence rather than harming it.

But the much more likely scenario is that they'll be polling somewhere between zero and 3%, and will be firmly on course to win no seats. Now, admittedly, even at that stage there'll be no absolute proof that the mission is doomed, and they might still nurse the hope that the official campaign period will turn things around - but that's pretty unlikely, given that they'll be excluded from the leaders' debates, along with all of the other disadvantages fringe parties face. With no pre-campaign breakthrough in the polls, the rational thing to do would be to abort the whole plan and not put up list candidates after all, because the balance of probability would be that any votes they take will be wasted and will thus harm rather than help the pro-indy side (ie. by making it harder for the SNP and Greens to win list seats). Or at least, that would be the rational call for anyone who regards independence as the absolute priority. If they push ahead in spite of knowing that they're likely to cause harm, we'll be entitled to conclude that their priorities actually lie elsewhere.

In a nutshell, my advice to the ISP would be what Jo Grimond famously said to the Liberal party in the 1950s: "get on or get out". In other words, there's no point in a fringe party existing just for the sake of it. If there's a realistic chance of making a positive difference, by all means put your heart and soul into it and make it work. But if there's no realistic chance, and if you discover from the polls that you've been caught in a Twitter bubble all along, then for heaven's sake step aside before you cause any real damage.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Sarah Smith's unforgivable lapse of judgement last night may be career-defining

I suspect Sarah Smith's outrageous allegation on live BBC news bulletins last night that Nicola Sturgeon is "enjoying" the "opportunity" of the pandemic is destined to become as notorious as Nick Robinson's "he didn't answer" lie in 2014. Let's be honest - no leader, no leader at all, is enjoying this crisis. Ms Sturgeon isn't enjoying it because of the intolerable stress of having to make life and death decisions, and because (like the rest of us) she's unable to spend time with her family and friends. Boris Johnson isn't enjoying it because of the obvious fact that he almost died. Donald Trump isn't enjoying it because he's a known germaphobe and because it may have screwed up his chances of being re-elected in November.

So what could possibly have given Sarah Smith the impression that the First Minister is somehow having lots of fun? The specific claim was that, although Ms Sturgeon insists her decisions have been driven by scientific advice and not politics, she is in fact relishing the chance to diverge from London policy. No evidence was provided to support this suggestion - which is hardly surprising, because no such evidence exists. Ms Smith was given total licence by the BBC to speculate and editorialise from a partisan anti-SNP perspective in front of millions of viewers, and without any right of reply.

What's so stupid about this incident is that it's blindingly obvious to anyone who has paid attention since March that the truth is the polar opposite of Ms Smith's claim - the First Minister was in reality determined to remain in lockstep with London, and did so for several weeks, even though that meant disregarding all of the key recommendations of the World Health Organization. It took a catastrophe of near-biblical proportions for her to finally accept that London didn't know best on this occasion - and even then she diverged from Boris Johnson's decisions with the greatest of regret and reluctance. She would infinitely have preferred Johnson to have compromised in order to maintain a UK-wide approach.

It's bad enough for a BBC correspondent to drop all pretence of impartiality and shove their own political opinions down viewers' throats - but when they're just plain factually wrong at the same time, that really is unforgivable.

* * *

To return briefly to the subject of the previous post, my eye was caught by this claim from Kevin McKenna in the Herald -

"A wide-ranging poll conducted this week for Wings Over Scotland by Panelbase has already produced one astounding conclusion: that the number of SNP voters who’d be willing to sacrifice power for the sacred goal of independence has dropped from 82% to 59%. It bears out my worst fears for the future of the independence movement: that the party which alone is defined by this has now become so dazzled by the trinkets of high office that it’s fast losing the stomach for the fight."

That's highly misleading on one count, and inaccurate on another. The poll quite simply didn't ask whether voters would "sacrifice power for independence". It didn't ask them whether they would prefer power or independence. It didn't ask any other variant of that question either. It instead asked whether people would vote Yes or No to independence under wildly implausible hypothetical circumstances, and didn't give them any opportunity to explain their reasoning. By far the most likely explanation for people getting cold feet about independence in the specified scenario is that they were concerned that Scotland might not be competently governed if the SNP suddenly ceased to exist. They therefore concluded it would be a risk too far. I doubt if it even occurred to them that they were "sacrificing power", and quite right too - ordinary voters don't have much power to sacrifice, and they generally don't have any control at all over the political party they vote for.

The direct inaccuracy is that the figure has "dropped from 82% to 59%". That suggests the result is being compared to a previous poll that asked a similar question - but it isn't. No such previous poll exists.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Landmark Wings poll finds that the SNP's popularity is crucial to preserving the coalition of support for independence

One of the reasons I knew in advance there was a Wings poll on its way was that people who had been interviewed by Panelbase mentioned there were "a lot of oddly-worded questions about the trans issue".  But it turns out that the oddly-worded questions weren't just confined to one subject.  Check out this monster - 

Please consider the following hypothetical scenario: the SNP issue a legally-binding commitment that in the event of a Yes vote for Scottish independence, they will permanently disband the party and step down from government as soon as the independence negotiations are concluded.  In that event, how do you think you would vote in an independence referendum?

Oh-kaaaaaay, Stu.  I mean, why stop there?  Why not ask people how they would vote in an independence referendum in the hypothetical scenario that Nicola Sturgeon and the entire SNP cabinet make a legally-binding commitment to blast off on a rocket bound for Saturn the following day?  I'm not a lawyer, but I have my doubts as to whether it's even possible for the kind of pre-commitments Stuart is talking about to be legally-binding.  For the SNP to disappear "permanently", I presume it would literally have to be prohibited by statute in much the same way that Germany has banned any form of Nazi party.  As for government formation, that's a matter for the Scottish Parliament at any given moment in time - options can't be closed off months or years in advance.

So what the hell was the point of Stuart asking such a ludicrous question?  Reading between the lines, it appears to have been a propaganda exercise, intended to establish that the SNP are a drag on support for independence.  If so, it backfired totally, because the result is the opposite - support for independence actually decreases from 50% to 47% when people are asked to assume that the SNP will no longer be around.  That really shouldn't have been such a surprise to Stuart, because a number of people have become independence supporters precisely because they've seen the SNP run a devolved administration with a high degree of competence, and expect more of the same with the full powers of independence.  As soon as you take away even the possibility of a post-independence SNP government, the reassurance disappears and those people are left with a considerable amount of uncertainty about what independence would look like and whether it would be a success.

Having failed to get the result he wanted, Stuart naturally does his usual "heads I win, tails you lose" thing, and tries to spin the result so that it supposedly still shows that the SNP are the main obstacle to independence (because their voters allegedly care more about maintaining SNP rule than about achieving the party's goal).  Yeah, whatever.

In science, there's an important concept called 'falsifiability'.  One implication of it is that if you set up a study in the hope of proving that a theory is true, there has to be a way in which the study could also prove the theory is false.  For example, if someone is claiming to have psychic powers, and you ask them ten questions to prove they are a charlatan, you have to accept that if they get all ten questions right, you've failed to prove what you set out to prove.  You can't then shift the goalposts and say "oh, but this just proves how cunning a charlatan he is!"

Stuart's claim (that his poll proves that the SNP are the main obstacle to indy) fails the falsifiability test, and fails it utterly.  He would literally have made exactly the same claim if he had got precisely the opposite result - and that was what he was seeking.

Prematurely relaxing restrictions on so-called "low-risk" groups is an exceptionally high-risk thing to do - unless you can somehow totally segregate the generations, which you can't.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The BBC can't have it both ways: if they want to criticise the Scottish Government for not taking stronger action than Westminster, they can't simultaneously dismiss devolved laws as toytown rules that shouldn't be taken too seriously

I said yesterday that the BBC were partly justified (and I stress only partly) in asking whether the Scottish Government could have saved lives by locking down earlier than the rest of the UK.  But if the BBC want to have any credibility in suggesting that devolved administrations should diverge more from the UK government line, it would be helpful if their own presenters and journalists didn't dismissively refer to the stricter lockdown laws that now exist in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as if they're toytown rules that don't need to be taken too seriously.  I'm sure you already know what I'm talking about - it's the notoriously sneering exchange on the BBC News channel between host Simon McCoy and Home Affairs Correspondent Daniel Sandford.

*  *  *

Simon McCoy: If you want to get in your car, you can, you can drive as far as you want, but you're not allowed to go into another nation.

Daniel Sandford: (chuckles incredulously) Don't cross the border!

Simon McCoy: (incredulously) Don't cross the border!

Daniel Sandford: I think this goes to the heart of the problem that the Westminster government is having with trying to make sure that the other nations march alongside them a bit.  Of course to a degree there's some politics going on, the other nations are flexing their muscles a bit, saying 'we're not going to take regulations from Westminster'...but it is a ridiculous situation where someone who lives in England on the Welsh border can drive all the way along to the coast of East Anglia to go to the coast but can't cross five miles across the border into Wales under these same rules, but to be honest with you, nobody's going to police that.  That's just what they're asking people to do because of the different rules in the different countries.  

*  *  *

Crikey.  If anyone doubted that Anglocentricity is alive and well at the BBC in London, this should put their minds to rest.  Where to start?

* First of all, as I understand it, the Welsh police are in fact attempting to police the restrictions, but it obviously becomes considerably harder for them to do that if the state broadcaster is wrongly giving people the impression that the law is optional and will not be enforced.  It's no exaggeration to say the BBC have undermined the law of Wales.  That warrants a prominent correction and apology.

* Given that the law in Wales this week is essentially the same as the law in England last week, and given that the police in England were enforcing that law last week, why would it seem in any way strange or unthinkable that the Welsh police would be enforcing it this week?  Unless of course Sandford thinks that laws passed in Cardiff are 'pretend' laws and only laws passed by Westminster are the real thing.

* Note the downright weird implication that the three nations that remain united in upholding the "stay at home" policy are the ones who are out of step, rather than the one nation that has actually decided to go off and do its own thing.

* Note the suggestion that the devolved administrations are a "problem" for the English authorities.  Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that England going rogue is a problem for the devolved administrations?

* Note the subtext in "trying to make sure that the other nations march alongside them a bit" that Westminster is the long-suffering 'parent' administration and the devolved administrations are stubborn children who aren't doing the very reasonable and modest things that are being asked of them.  You'd think after more than twenty years of devolution, the BBC might by now have got their heads around the idea that the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments have parity of esteem with Westminster on devolved matters, and that if the four governments are going to "march in step", that requires dialogue and compromise - not everyone just doing whatever Westminster decides is best.

* Note that Sandford thinks that the impact of "politics" has only been felt in the decision of the devolved nations to stick with the previous UK-wide policy.  It seems far more likely that the devolved nations have actually been following scientific advice, and that the dog's breakfast of the new policy in England can be largely explained by political considerations (ie. splits within the Tory party).

* No, Daniel, it is not "ridiculous" that different laws are applied and enforced in different jurisdictions.  It is, in fact, entirely routine and unremarkable.  Look at it this way: people in Dover are twenty miles away from France and several hundred miles away from Newcastle.  Is it "ridiculous" that the laws that apply in Dover also apply in Newcastle but not in France?  No?  In that case, why the incredulity about exactly the same principle applying to someone who lives five miles from the Welsh border?  Could this betray a proprietorial attitude towards Wales in particular?  Cardiff can play at law-making, but as soon as those laws interfere with the God-given right of an Englishman to do what he likes "in his own back yard", they must obviously be disregarded?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Dr Mike Ryan of the WHO ferociously denounces UK-style herd immunity strategies: "Humans are not herds", "No-one is safe until everyone is safe"

I posted the other day about Iain Macwhirter quoting Dr Mike Ryan out of context to give the false impression that the World Health Organization had somehow endorsed the reckless Swedish philosophy of "this virus isn't as dangerous as all that, you know" and "we can safely allow it to move through the population".  Needless to say, Ryan actually takes the completely opposite view, as he helpfully demonstrated in yesterday's WHO media briefing with one of the most eloquent denunciations of 'herd immunity' that you'll ever hear or read.  There's a touch of biting sarcasm in this, and it's hard to believe it wasn't aimed at least partly at the likes of Dominic Cummings ("so what if we lose a few old people along the way"), Chris Whitty ("there was an assumption that when the seroepidemiology comes it will demonstrate that most people have been infected and this will all be over") and Patrick Vallance ("this idea that, well, maybe countries that have had lax measures and haven't done anything will all of a sudden magically reach some herd immunity").

"Herd immunity, a term taken from veterinary epidemiology, where people are concerned in animal husbandry with the overall health of the herd.  An individual animal in that sense doesn't matter from the perspective of the brutal economics of that decision-making.  Humans are not herds, and as such the concept of herd immunity is generally reserved for calculating how many people would need to be vaccinated in a population in order to generate that same effect.  So I think we need to be really careful when we use terms in this way around natural infections in humans, because it can lead to a very brutal arithmetic which does not put people and life and suffering at the centre of that equation.

What also does concern me in this narrative is that there was an assumption as this disease spread around the world that we're really just seeing the severe cases and the difficult cases, and when the seroepidemiology comes, it will demonstrate that most of the people have been infected, and this will all be over and we'll go back to normal business.  Well, the preliminary results from the seroepidemiologic studies is showing the opposite.  It's showing the proportion of people with significant clinical illness is actually a higher proportion of all those who've been infected, because the number of people infected in the total population is probably much lower than we expected.  And as Maria has said, that means we have a long way to go, and it means, as the Director-General has been saying for months, this is a serious disease, this is Public Enemy No. 1.  We have been saying it over and over and over and over again.  We really do need to now step back and sort of recalculate this as a 'mild illness' and effectively make the same mistakes we made the first time round in terms of not taking this seriously, and not putting in place the necessary measures.  

We have a second chance now, as a society, to put in place the necessary public health interventions, to put in place the necessary community support, to support our vulnerable populations, be they in long-term care facilities, or be they in refugee camps.  No-one is safe until everyone is safe.  

So I do think this idea that, well, maybe countries that have had lax measures and haven't done anything will all of a sudden magically reach some "herd immunity", and so what if we lose a few old people along the way, I mean this is a really dangerous, dangerous calculation, and not one that I believe most member states are willing to make.  Member states, responsible member states, will look at all their population, they'll value every member of their society, and they'll try to do everything possible to protect health, while at the same time obviously protecting society, protecting the economy and other things.  We need to get our priorities right as we enter the next phase of this fight."

The quoted section can be viewed below from approximately 47:52.

The BBC's criticism of Scotland's slowness to react to the crisis is *partly* justified - but the BBC itself has questions to answer about its own failings in March

Quite a few SNP and independence supporters have reacted angrily to a BBC Scotland programme earlier this evening that suggested 80% of the deaths in Scotland could have been prevented if we had locked down two weeks earlier.  But in a sense that was just a statement of the obvious - we already know from the example of other countries (Denmark, New Zealand, Greece, etc) that locking down earlier and harder could have averted the worst of the catastrophe.  The bigger question is whether the BBC is apportioning blame in the wrong place, because Scotland didn't really have the legal power to fully lock down in early March.  (There's even an ongoing debate over whether the newly-won power to unilaterally maintain lockdown is meaningful, given London's control of the purse-strings.  But luckily we should only need to diverge for a matter of weeks rather than months, as long as we get to grips with testing and contact tracing quickly.)

It was the collective 4 Nations approach that failed, and Scotland's role in that was quite complex - it would have been realistic for us to go our own way in some respects but not in others.  There are four mistakes for which I think the Scottish Government can be legitimately criticised -

1) Not stopping large public gatherings earlier.  They eventually took that step a few days earlier than England, so there's no question that they could and should have done it even earlier.  The Lewis Capaldi concert should not have gone ahead, and neither should the Rangers v Leverkusen match or the Scotland v France Six Nations fixture.

2) Not closing schools earlier.  Again, this is undoubtedly a devolved power and there was no good reason for remaining in lockstep with England for so long.

3) Abandoning testing and contact tracing at the same time as the UK government.  Whatever the capacity issues, it should have been continued to the maximum extent possible.

4) Not issuing strong social distancing advice earlier.  You don't need to have or use draconian powers to get people to listen to your advice when you suggest that they should stay away from each other as much as possible.  That could really have made a telling difference, but instead, in those crucial days of mid-March, the leading Scottish Government spokesman was ludicrously advising people to increase their contact with vulnerable relatives, to go to mass gatherings, and boasting that he would do so himself.

And make no mistake - Leitch didn't issue that irresponsible advice because he was unaware of how bad the situation was. He was quite open in a number of interviews that his objective was for the vast majority of the population to be infected (albeit in a managed way) to achieve population-wide immunity. That was unforgivably reckless, given how little was known about the virus at the time - not least how deadly it is and how long any immunity actually lasts after infection.

So, yes, the BBC had a point tonight - albeit only partly. But the BBC itself should be answering questions about one of its biggest-ever failures as a public service broadcaster. During the herd immunity episode, it wasn't probing the UK government about the plans to expose the bulk of the population to a deadly pathogen, it wasn't asking the obvious question: "you're going to do WHAT?" Instead, it merely acted as a dutiful relayer of the state's messaging, "explaining" to viewers what was going to happen to them - exactly as a state broadcaster would do in an authoritarian country.