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by Louise Wilson
01 February 2024
The job of the First Minister is not to tell us his government got the ‘big calls’ right

Humza Yousaf pointed to lives saved as a result of the Covid vaccine | Alamy

The job of the First Minister is not to tell us his government got the ‘big calls’ right

We got the big decisions right, insists First Minister Humza Yousaf.

It was almost like we had travelled back two years in time, when Boris Johnson was pointing to the vaccines to distract from the fact Number 10 had seemingly partied through lockdown. A man trying to save his skin as the walls are closing in. A man arguing that, whatever he'd got wrong, he had got more right.

Only this time it's not in Westminster and it's not a man who was always wholly unsuitable for public office. It's the Scottish Parliament, and a first minister fighting for his political life.

Responding to questions about his government’s failures on record-keeping, Yousaf insisted: “On the big calls, many of the decisions that we made helped to save lives.”

He, like the former prime minister many moons ago, pointed to the lives saved “as a direct result of the Covid-19 vaccination programme”.

And then, naturally, he held up Johnson as an irresponsible, rule-breaking, contemptuous strawman: “When it comes to steering this country through some of its darkest days, I’m very pleased we had Nicola Sturgeon in charge here, in the Scottish Government, as opposed to Boris Johnson.”

Indeed, that sentiment is exactly what many of us were left thinking at the time, watching a first minister that seemed to get it, that seemed to understand the gravity of the situation and was the person you would want at the helm.

Now though? After all the has come out in recent months about deleted messages and politicisation and “flippant” civil servants seeking “plausible deniability”? The idea that Sturgeon was somehow far superior just doesn’t ring true.

And what are the “big calls” that the Scottish Government did get right? Sending people from hospitals to care homes resulting in needless deaths? Trying to start a “good old fashioned rammy” with the UK Government? Causing confusion by implementing a set of rules about face masks that even the health secretary (Yousaf himself) struggled to understand?

This is why Yousaf and Johnson are both so keen to point to the vaccines. It is one very clear victory that, yes, undoubtedly saved lives and allowed a return to normal life. But it is not enough – not for the Covid bereaved families and not for any of us who expect more and better from our government.

The end of the Covid inquiry is still many weeks away, and the report will likely take many months after that. Based on what we’ve heard so far, it will no doubt make for uncomfortable reading for decision-makers.

Until then, politicians of all parties should spare us the disrespectful dismissal of any question or criticism. It is certainly not for them to tell anyone what they got right.

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