Tuesday, May 12, 2020

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.

27 comments:

  1. It can take some time for Downing street to instruct the BBC on the official position they're required to take over issues, and of course the UK government has to wait for instructions from their owners, a certain section of the *British* or is it, American
    press

    Boris Johnson and Dominic Cumming aren't just allowed to make their own decisions without consulting higher authority

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  2. I don't think we need to take lectures from Brit Brainwashing Corp James as they would gleefully see us all slaughtered/murdered to make an anti Scottish point.

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    1. Exactly right, IainM

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    2. I forgot to say James. This is in the past and as long as lessons are learned by the SNP and they stay learned from this point on and that is Test, Test, Test and Test again, followed by rigorous contact tracing and enforced isolation and quarantines if need be. Oh and naturally Sturgeon closing the frikkin Border to save those Scottish lives that the BBC don't give a fuck for.

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  3. I would be more inclined to accept the BBC's (self-evident and universal) point made in glorious Hindsightcolor(TM) if that organisation had an established track record in assiduous questioning of the obviously even more tardy and ill-prepared approach of the UK Government over the last few months, instead of acting like a shamefully sycophantic toady.

    As usual, UKGov is unfailingly wonderful while the Scottish Government has made every possible mistake under the sun, as the glass-totally-empty BBC would have us all believe. Time after time, the same old oppressive negativity, all paid for with our own money, even!

    Thankfully people can judge for themselves who is "Andrew Cuomo" and who is "Donald Trump" in this drama, even if the BBC patently can't. It just can't help demeaning itself more and more in public esteem. (Which no doubt one day its wonderful hindsight will also reveal, long after Nemesis has struck and it's all far too late.)

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  4. Well, James, if we had had the sovereign powers of the likes of New Zealand, who knows what difference that would have made in the death toll? (Quite a lot, I imagine, despite Jason Leitch.)

    So I expect the BBC will follow-through now on the logic of its "Damascene revelation" and be fully in support of Scottish independence henceforth...

    ...no?...!

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  5. Good to see the BBC highlighting why Scotland should not follow a united 4 nations path, but instead go its own way, leaving the UK behind when it comes to governance. Pacific Quay are right that being part of the union has cost lives, and we need to be independent of England, making our own decisions.

    Someone send Carwash a link.

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  6. Incidentally, is the BBC calling for a national minimum wage for Scots, full furlough powers and border controls with and extended lockdown if needed, or is it advocating a Great British end to confinement?

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    1. Maybe those servants working at the BBC will also accept the national minimum wage and it could be extended to politicians. We would all be happily in the same boat then.
      And what are your EU chums doing for the people during this crisis? I assume we British are still handing over millions to the pariahs.

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    2. Covidia shouldn't concern itself with what its overlords are earning. Not unless it wants to draw attention to itself in time for harvest season.
      As for the EU, British nationalist exceptionalism caused its beloved Tory overlords to slap away the hand of friendship in respect of PPE. It may thank its overlords when the infection rate spikes despite their vague "staying alert" guidance.

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    3. Gross Wittering Comedia-1909, the quasi-human site blowfly, it's always "your" and "you Jocks", etc.

      You are as much a (self-identifying) stranger to us as you are to the truth.

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  7. Questions have to be asked of the research, which is after all a "best guess" based on the assumptions in the model, and assuming there are no errors. 80% is a guess not a fact. And would the population have complied if Scotland went alone?

    How would the SG have paid for workers to stay at home and support business, given a hostile Treasury. And with England carrying on much as before under a gung-ho charlaton, open borders, people travelling up here, would we have complied fully with a lock-down?

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  8. I want to know why the BBC didn't close down it's offices much earlier given it knew the risks. As a public service broadcaster, it should have been setting an example.

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  9. It's disingenuous for anyone to assert that the Scottish government could have instigated full lock down earlier. They don't have the power to borrow money which is essential to instigate something like an emergency furlough scheme. Without it, how were they supposed to tell people that they couldn't go to work? By whacking up Scottish income tax with an emergency budget, while nobody is working or paying income tax? The idea is ridiculous.

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  10. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the programme as the headlines seem to make no reference to wider lessons - just our own government failing to do things that they cannot easily do.

    I agree 100% with James’ points of criticism though as for about 2 weeks before UK lockdown we at my work had been making preparations for people working at home, but doing so in a noisy vacuum that was still gazing horrified at Italy. We would have responded immediately to clear strong local advice - in fact we were gone by the Monday night lockdown announcement but would have left sooner if prompted.

    Of course, mid March 2020 was a lifetimes experience away from today , and sadly so for a lot of people in a literal sense. We are all a lot wiser now.

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  11. I might have serious memory lapse, but was there not a bit of a stooshie at the BBC and Eng(UK)Gov when Nicola Sturgeon started to even mention closing schools and stopping mass gatherings a bit earlier than they did in London? Whatever I would not give the BBC an ounce of acceptance in their criticism of the Scottish SNP government. They bloody well know that Scotland's government functions with one arm tied tightly behind their back, and that rope is getting tighter.

    Let's not forget that the 'block grant', Scotland's money which is taken then a smaller % sent back to manage all of Scotland's economy on, has been reduced over the years since the SNP came to power at Holyrood. Was it not quite a bit higher when Labour UK branch were in power for ten years at Holyrood? A couple of £billion wouldn't go amiss now I am sure, and no the EngGov are not 'bailing out' Scotland with a few extra £'s, it's Scotland's money anyway.

    What DID Labour UK branch office do with the £Billions when at the helm at Holyrood? Aside the £1.5BILLION they sent BACK to Westminster of course...

    BBC are a disgrace, but then we know that they are a propaganda tool for the EngGov and they are dangerous for Scotland's democracy quite frankly.

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  12. Glad I don't pay the bbc tax.

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  13. I think that is a fair summary James.

    Sturgeonites have latched onto the early lockdown stuff because they can defend her inability to finance a full lockdown - even though there were bits she COULD have implemented if she so chose.

    They have been much more reluctant to talk about the lack of action and decisions in other areas; why an SNP administration of all things would ever countenance adopting a strategy developed by London Tories who never act in Scotland's interests, or why contact tracing was abandoned when it was.

    (And another bug bear - the Scottish Government did not BAN large events before the UK, it advised organisers to cancel them. Hardly the same thing. These people need to remember that the Wales v Scotland OUTDOOR rugby game in Cardiff was cancelled the day before the INDOOR Capaldi concert in Aberdeen went ahead.)

    I would really like to see a graph that shows what would have happened if all known cases were fully contact traced and suspected infections isolated. The difference might be even starker than the early lockdown model and, tragically, the means to that outcome was entirely in the gift of the First Minister.

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  14. Cupcake McLavertyMay 12, 2020 at 7:32 PM

    I get mixed up between pineapples and coconuts.

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  15. That's a very good post James. The root cause of the mess we are in is the UK government's handling of the situation, but the Scottish government cannot escape blame. It swallowed the herd immunity nonsense hook, line, sinker and rowboat. It didn't do its own research and find the contrary point of view that recommended suppression and containment. It didn't look at what other countries had achieved with that approach. It definitely knew about the number of deaths projected from the herd immunity strategy but never appears to have said, hang on a minute is there not some way we can prevent this catastrophe? As a result of that, I think, not of the lack of devolved powers, no protest or dissent was registered against this murderous proposal, and instead Sturgeon turned herself into the public relations campaign to sell the "move through the population" plan.

    A party with ambitions to govern an independent Scotland should seek at all times to behave as an independent government as far as possible. Health is devolved and I believe it was inexcusable of Sturgeon to delegate all pandemic planning to Westminster and then simply fall into line, rather than gathering and listening to her own independent experts, examining the full range of options, and being in a position at least to advocate for the same approach as Jacinda Ardern, and indeed to put it into practice as far as possible for example by closing schools and banning large gatherings much earlier, and of course the real biggle, mounting a really determined test, trace, isolate exercise and not giving up just on Westminster's say-so.

    I don't believe she is as culpable as Johnston here, but she had the chance to understand that there was a way to save lives and she didn't take that on board. She behaved like a colonial administrator taking her orders from the colonial power, not like a national leader.

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    1. And I should have said, James, that last paragraph. Nail hit exactly on head. Where was the reporter saying, "Hold on, you're actually saying that the best way to protect a population from a deadly disease is to let most of them get it? Where has that ever been advocated before, and by whom?"

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  16. Well... The BBC report last night just highlighted why Scotland needs to become independent ASAP. It most certainly wasn't their intention, but that's what they did.

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  17. The Nike conference was small and as far as one can tell at this stage was contained. Quite why so much attention is focussed on this one event is not entirely clear to me other than the rather inelegant politicisation by the hardy perennials like Ian Murray.

    The Italy and France six nations matches that took place, (men and women) must have seen thousands travelling around Europe not to mention the football matches and all the other meetings, conferences and holidays that took place during that time. We gave the virus every opportunity to wander around Europe.

    With 2020 hindsight a lock down two weeks earlier would undoubtedly have slowed the virus although the damage might have already occurred with multiple entry points having already breached the UK. (We still aren't properly monitoring our borders). To argue it would have prevented 80% of the deaths is possible but it is only a model. Personally, I think it was already well established earlier than two weeks before the actual lock down.

    A small number of countries succeeded in nailing things in time but the majority have not. It is all a bit academic though, what we need to ensure is that we keep a lid on it now and prevent a second wave. That might be easier said than done.

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    1. Because, as the well worn phrase goes, size doesn't matter.

      What does matter is that the Scottish Government has said repeatedly that it is being as 'transparent as possible' and Nicola has herself said there is no information about the virus that she has not shared.

      I would have said that a confirmed outbreak in our capital city is the very information that the public are entitled to know along with reassurances that all protocols to contain the virus were being followed. I would go so far as to say that it required an emergency statement to parliament given the global circumstances.

      The point is that it is now too late to interrogate how this was handled both from the point of view of making a difference at the time and ensuring that further incidents are handled better if possible.

      It is impossible to know for sure but I suspect that if we had all known that 25 people got infected from 1 case at a conference in Edinburgh we would all have been taking this much more seriously much earlier. And it is very difficult to imagine that lives that have been lost would not have been lost as a result of this.

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    2. It was clear from all round the world how dangerous this infection is and how quickly and easily it spread. By early March there were outbreaks all around the country. In the same week that this incident became known to the Scottish Government a member of the Scottish Women's rugby team was admitted to hospital with a positive test for CV, 7 others were self isolating and their games were cancelled. It was pretty clear then that we were heading for a lock down. Also in that same week it was impossible to buy toilet paper, pasta or paracetamol. We knew what was coming so I simply don't buy that having more details about the Nike conference made any difference.

      We have a quarter of million positive tests and who knows how many unknown positives. It is certain there were numerous flare points. Pubs, clubs, football matches, hotels, planes and trains etc., The UK almost certainly should have locked down sooner but we didn't. That may partly be due to the herd immunity thing and partly due to the mechanics of loans and furlough schemes in the Treasury that took time to put together. A few countries moved quickly, most did not and we are in the latter camp.

      It is clear to me that the people involved in trying to create a grassy knoll conspiracy like Murray are just playing cheap politics. This is perhaps no surprise from that quarter. Nor does it alter my view on those who do not want the Scottish Government anything "independent" of Westminster but think that they should have implemented full lock down two weeks earlier than Westminster. It is hypocrisy on stilts as George the Hat might say.

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  18. One thing I should have said is that I have noticed a number of people who foam at the mouth at any suggestion that Scotland do anything other than fall into lock step with the UK are suddenly advocates of an earlier lock down. It is hard to take such blatant dishonesty seriously.

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