Boris is back! There is no telling how thrilled I am. But being ever inclined to look for the silver lining – debased and tarnished as it may be – I welcome the fact that we now get to make direct comparisons between what the heads of the two governments are saying. And how they are saying it. We have grown accustomed to being informed about the situation in Scotland and the Scottish Government’s response straight from the horses mouth, so to speak. Now we get the output from the other end directly instead of having the stable-boys shovelling it up and delivering it to us in buckets. There is literally no telling how thrilled I am.
There’s not much more to be said about the way our First Minister has comported herself over the past few weeks. Her presentation style has been all but flawless. Clear, consistent, calm, confident and always briefed to the point where she speaks with great authority. Sombre as appropriate. Amusing when the opportunity arises. Quick-witted at all times. Restrained when she deems restraint to be called for. Ready to take questions from hostile media and just as prepared to answer them – often in ways they don’t expect; occasionally in ways they don’t like. Dignified but accessible. Straight-talking but courteous. Forthright but discreet. She’s bloody good!
If Nicola Sturgeon takes to the podium on the world stage like a seasoned statesman to speak on matters of great import, Boris Johnson takes the microphone at a wedding like one of the groom’s drinking buddies who has been ordered on pain of castration to put a gloss on a marriage everybody knows will be over before the DJ plays the The Cryin’ Shames – or whatever it is they close with now that it’s not 1968. If Nicola Sturgeon is the witness that the jury believes, Boris Johnson is the witness the jury think really did the crime and should be doing the time even if he didn’t do the crime because he’s such an shifty character.
Nicola’s The West Wing without the accent. Boris is Yes Minister without the laughs.
You get the picture.
Nicola Sturgeon is intent on giving people the facts and stating the situation as honestly as possible even if the news is not good. Or at least she gives that impression. And if that is not all that matters then it is certainly a very large part of it. Our FM inspires confidence. She commands respect. she earns trust. All of which is crucial because there is no strategy for coping with Covid-19 that is not critically dependent on the willing cooperation of the general public. People do what Nicola Sturgeon tells them to do. They have complied with the lockdown restrictions as comprehensively as they have largely because she has convinced them of the necessity and she is the one they look to for information and advice. They look to her as a leader.
Boris Johnson hasn’t a clue. Or at least he gives that impression. If he says hello your first instinct is have that fact-checked. When Donald Trump was suggesting coronavirus infection could be cured by giving internal organs an overnight soak in Domestos, Boris Johnson was the one wishing he’d thought of that first. He’s not interested in the science. He’s only interested in the optics. He’s not interested in providing information. He’s only interested in winning favour. For Nicola Sturgeon this is first and foremost a public health crisis that she is responsible for dealing with. For Boris Johnson it’s a bit of a bother that somebody really needs to get sorted out.
When Nicola Sturgeon says it might be a good idea to cover your face in situations where social distancing is impractical or impossible, people listen and think it’s a sensible precaution that they may well heed her advice on. Unless they’re listening from inside the British media bubble. In which case they’re wondering whether to go with indignant outrage (Daily Express), pompous condemnation (Record), sarcastic mockery (Sun), look at those shoes! (Mail), subtle misrepresentation (Scotsman), crude misrepresentation (Herald), three-legged dog delivers newspapers in Fife village (BBC Scotland).
When Boris Johnson says we’ve “passed the peak” of the crisis people listen and think this is what he’s saying having been talked out of announcing the end of lockdown and urging everybody to go out in the streets and parks of England’s blessed isle and ‘Hug for Britain’! Unless they’re listening in those parts of this blessed isle where they think themselves sufficiently blessed that they can afford to elevate Boris Johnson to the status of national hero and praise him as the man who saved England from that “orrible foreign bug wot the immigrants brought in”.
You won’t hear Nicola Sturgeon using terms such as “passed the peak”. Not that she’s incapable of saying the wrong thing. While lauding her handling of the current public health crisis I don’t forget those aspects of her performance as First Minister which are, shall we say, less splendid. Nicola Sturgeon wouldn’t utter those words only partly because she’s a smart politician who knows better than to give such hostages to fortune – even if she fails to act accordingly all the time. Mainly, I would suggest, she is more cautious about optimistic statements because she genuinely understands the nature of the threat – in a way that Boris Johnson can’t. Or is not disposed to. Or is not equipped to.
There are signs that Boris Johnson is about to give in to pressure and announce some kind of exit strategy and recovery plan. Nicola Sturgeon is, I suspect, very much aware that the virus is not going away and while plans and promises about life after the virus may be what people want to hear but that what responsible governments should be working on is planning for life with the virus.
The likelihood is that the UK Government will opt for a phased end to lockdown with a rapid and escalating response to any signs of a fresh outbreak. They will prioritise “getting back to normal”. That is to say, restoring the status quo ante. The Scottish Government may well part company completely with London on this. I feel certain Nicola Sturgeon is determined to take a more cautious approach, trying to get ahead of the virus and cut it off before considering any easing of restrictions. Or, as The Scotsman would put it, trying to pick a fight with Westminster.
I know which of the two I’ll be listening to. I’m not at all confident that Boris Johnson knows the difference between a peak and a plateau.
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