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I owed it to my constituents and my mum to ask tough questions during the pandemic

Messages between Jason Leitch and Humza Yousaf were released during the Covid inquiry | Alamy

I owed it to my constituents and my mum to ask tough questions during the pandemic

In November 2019 my elderly mum had a major stroke. We weren’t sure if she would survive but thankfully, due to the care of the NHS, she did and in February 2020 was discharged to a care home five minutes’ walk from my house. Three weeks later the country went into lockdown. 

At the same time my wife and daughter were on the frontline as NHS workers and my brother, who suffers from a long-term, chronic health condition, lived in terror about what might happen if he caught the virus.

My family was not unique – many were in a similar position. We all had a strong personal interest in the life and death decisions being made in our name by people in power.
Now, call me old fashioned, but I was of the opinion that as a parliamentarian I had a duty to pursue the truth on behalf of my constituents and hold the government to account for their decisions. During those unprecedented and monumental lockdown periods the pursuit of truth and accountability were more important than ever.

At the start of the pandemic the World Health Organisation urged governments across the world to “test, test and test again”. At a briefing for MSPs I asked why the government was ignoring this advice. The national clinical director, Jason Leitch, responded to my question with arrogant, dismissive contempt, provoking me to go on to ask many more questions about the lack of testing. It was self-evident to me that the government was completely unprepared for what was to come.

I then started to hear from staff in the care sector that they had no access to essential PPE – Leitch and Jeane Freeman, the then health secretary, denied there was a problem.
Then came the shambolic handling of the outbreak at the Nike conference. Constituents were in touch and told me of the abject failure to contact trace. The apparent cover-up and secrecy around this was alarming.

As those grim days passed, families of care home residents got in touch to tell me about the virus running wild through care homes. 

The decision to discharge people from hospital untested was an unmitigated disaster causing many unnecessary deaths. For those who survived they found Do Not Resuscitate notices had been put on their records without their knowledge. 

If asking questions about the impact of government decision-making on my mum and her generation makes me 'a twat' and 'an arsehole' in the words of the current first minister and his chum Jason Leitch, as revealed at the Covid inquiry, then I stand guilty as charged.

As many hospitals lay empty, elderly people were denied inpatient treatment. What a way to treat the people that gave my generation so much. 

Scotland’s treatment of our elderly people during the pandemic was a human rights catastrophe and those who were supposed to have ministerial responsibility for policy impacting on the elderly were nowhere to be seen. When I raised this in the Scottish Parliament I was abused, and outside of the chamber a government whip attempted to physically confront me.

Despite assurances that untested discharges had ended, the practice continued. I pleaded with Nicola Sturgeon and Freeman to end it, but instead of showing humility they went on the attack (aided by their social media trolls) claiming that I did not care about people in care homes and that I was only interested in political point-scoring. This despite the fact they knew my elderly mum was a care home resident.  

In the months up until I left parliament at the election in 2021, I continued to ask Sturgeon and Freeman to admit their monumental mistake. They refused point blank to do so until a week or so after the election. 

In the safe knowledge there would be no parliamentary scrutiny of her, Freeman later admitted to the BBC’s Nick Robinson that the care home discharge policy had indeed been a mistake.
My mum died peacefully in November 2023 just a few weeks short of her 85th birthday. She survived the Covid nightmare and spent four years in her care home. People like her built post-war Scotland. 

A teacher, she helped educate thousands of children. As a union rep she successfully campaigned against school restructuring that would have negatively impacted on children’s education. As a volunteer she worked on projects to alleviate poverty and inequality and as a mum, wife, granny and friend she instilled in those she met the values of respect, fairness, dignity and the true worth of education. 

If asking questions about the impact of government decision-making on my mum and her generation makes me “a twat” and “an arsehole” in the words of the current first minister and his chum Jason Leitch, as revealed at the Covid inquiry, then I stand guilty as charged. This is a badge of honour I will wear with pride for the rest of my life. 

RIP Margaret Findlay. 

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