Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The early history of the pandemic mustn't be conveniently rewritten to suit government officials who played fast and loose with people's lives

It's been a long, long time since I've written a Jason Leitch-bashing blogpost, mainly because it's seemed a bit unnecessary - Leitch has been signed up to the Scottish Government's sensible strategy for over a year now, which means his salesman's patter has been put to far better use than it was in the earliest stages of the pandemic.  But that doesn't mean it's OK to rewrite the history of what happened in February and March 2020 or his own disgraceful role in that.  

I was a bit stunned to see on Twitter this afternoon that people were saying they had no recollection of Leitch ever advocating herd immunity - the implication being that it couldn't possibly have happened.  In reality, of course, Leitch embarked on a Grand Complacency Tour of the TV and radio studios in the weeks leading up to lockdown and was considerably more explicit about his support for mass infection than most UK government officials.  He wasn't, in fairness, the main instigator of the herd immunity strategy - but when you're faced with a calamitous error in government policy which is likely to cause tens of thousands of needless deaths, and you have a choice between pushing back against that, or embracing it and selling it wholeheartedly to the public, I think it's appropriate that you take your share of responsibility if you follow the latter course.  At the moment, Leitch's antics at the start of last year are like the embarrassing family secret that he and others think will just go away if it's never spoken of.

I've been accused in the last few months of being "on the wrong side of history" because of my support for Alba and my dislike of the SNP's turn towards identity politics.  The jury is still out on those points, but one thing I'm entitled to say that I was undoubtedly on the right side of history about was my vocal opposition to herd immunity in those crucial weeks in early-to-mid-March 2020.  Unthinking SNP loyalists were trying to shout me down, telling people to ignore "irresponsible bloggers" like me and to listen to "experts" like Leitch instead.  I'm quite proud of the fact that I was one of the people pointing out that the emperor had no clothes when it was not at all comfortable to do so. 

Remember the plaudits Leitch received for smugly telling Piers Morgan that it was absolutely right to go to a crowded concert just before lockdown when the virus was spreading like wildfire, and indeed that he would have done so himself?  In retrospect it's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.  At a time when we now know Boris Johnson wanted Chris Whitty to inject him with coronavirus on live TV to demonstrate how 'mild' the illness he later almost died of was, the Scottish Government was still in complete lockstep with London.  That was a catastrophic error that can't just be swept under the carpet, no matter how well Nicola Sturgeon has done since she belatedly broke with the UK-wide approach last spring.


  1. Well said, although I'd dispute that the present Scottish government strategy is particularly sensible either. It's better than it was a year ago, but that's not a hard bar to cross.

    Jason Leitch is a dentist with an MSc in Public Health. An MSc is a post-graduate qualification gained by passing a mostly taught course, and writing a minor dissertation - not nearly as advanced as a PhD and yet even a PhD is only regarded as a training in research. An MSc is barely the first stepping-stone to the eventual goal of expertise and it's been obvious from the first that Leitch was woefully under-equipped for the role he suddenly found himself in.

    He didn't know any better than to take on board what people in England were saying, and he had so little imagination he couldn't appreciate the consequences of the mantra he was repeating. They were expecting about 80,000 deaths in Scotland at the time he was selling the idea to the public (me, I was staying away from all other human beings and very glad of the store of food I'd put away in case Brexit went badly south).

    The somewhat lower death toll in Scotland compared to England is entirely explained by our lower population density and the fact that with the major hub airports all in England the virus comes into England first, so Scotland, locking down at the same time as England, does so at an earlier stage in the surge.

    We have nothing to be proud of here. The Scottish government failed to think for itself, failed to see the inevitable consequences of the course of action it was pursuing, and listened to idiots like Leitch instead of consulting genuine experts.

    1. Sorry, but are you an expert here? Was anyone a covid expert when this new disease spread like wildfire from out of nowhere? It's just you'd need to be more of an expert than those involved to judge and I say that without passing comment on Leitch as while I have a PhD, I don't think it qualifies me to as it's in chemical engineering.

      The countries that did the best were independent island nations which basically shut their borders. This was not an option open to most countries with land borders that were relatively open normally.

      Global pandemic control (borders, migration and international affairs, welfare, economy, lockdown laws, vaccine licensing, army support etc) is of course a UK reserved matter and remains largely so. As part of one of the worst affected / poorly managed countries globally, Scotland's relative performance is nothing short of miraculous TBH, even with mistakes made. The same mistakes lots of indy countries made as they attempted to deal with a rapidly spreading disease that was poorly understood.

      In my experience it is only unionists who have tried to compare Scotland to other countries without noting that Scotland is literally a parish council by comparison when it comes to pandemics. Treatment of victims was devolved (NHS) and that was largely it at the outbreak. Scotland had pretty much no lockdown powers, no control over borders, no ability to call up the army to assist, no ability to pay furlough to workers, no ability to license vaccines, no ability to borrow to fund support packages, no ability to broadcast to the nation as needed, no ability to support the economy, not ability to coordinate with other countries globally to tackle spread by international travel...)

      It's amazing deaths here were not so much worse. But then the difference was intent. The Scottish government made mistakes but tried to do the best thing, putting lives first. Not so in England it seems.

      When the stories emerge of Nicola Sturgeon secretly talking about preferring 'the bodies to pile high than to have another lockdown' then I'll reconsider.

    2. Scotland doesn't have a lower population density than england. 90% of the population is crammed into less than 1/4 of the land.
      Try harder with your lies.
      Also Herd Immunity is already here. Millions didn't die. C19 is basically harmless to anyone under 60.

    3. Oh yes of course it is, PeeJay, it was just a mad figment of our imagination that 55 year old Boris Johnson ended up in intensive care with it and almost died.

      To the extent that we now have a degree of herd immunity, that is caused by the *vaccine*.

    4. "The countries that did the best were independent island nations which basically shut their borders. This was not an option open to most countries with land borders that were relatively open normally."

      This is why we can't shy away from what it means to be able to control our side of the land border with England. In a pandemic situation, police scotland have to be able to shut these roads or we get the farce of Scots and visitors flying via English airports to dodge quarantine requirements.

      And when there's not a pandemic? Ideally, the CTA will continue to apply but the same sort of customs checks as there are between GB and NI will apply as long as England stays outside of the EU/SM/CU, except we won't be able to hide it within seaport infrastracture(which is a trick not working in NI anyway).

      Most importantly, our government wouldn't be forced to initially follow crisis policies determined by an incompetent neighbour in the name of "national unity". We might still have got a Jason Leitch type pushing herd immunity at the start anyway but at least it wouldn't have been due to being caught up in another country's reaction.

    5. Scottish Skier, yes I am a retired expert in disease control. And I have one of these PhD thingies. The utter inadequacy of Jason Leitch was obvious to anyone with an academic background from day one.

  2. I can remember the ‘herd immunity’ policy being supported in Scotland. I was arguing against it with most of the other members on our local SNP WhatsApp group, of which I was then a member.

  3. I answered some of Leitch's reckless tweets pushing the Boris death strategy in March 2020. How did I know he was being stupid and irresponsible? I was reading Devi Sridhar's tweets. Jason Leitch was reading them also but he ignored them.
    Devi has been proven correct by subsequent events.

  4. Nicola has little or no foresight, she speaks well but that's it - worse still she has created a Yes-mz/No-mz structure bereft of imagination