Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
Managing risk


Managing risk

I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot during this lockdown. It’s soon to be the third anniversary of his death and there’s something about that milestone that makes it all the more poignant: not recent enough to still feel that searing pain of raw grief but equally, a reminder that he didn’t leave us yesterday and that time slips away too soon.

I miss him even more now, because at times of crises when we all feel at sea, no matter what age, we look for the adult in the room. And right now, as we all live our own small personal daily hells, I still look around thinking the answers will come from someone with more authority, more experience, more anything, anyone but me.

It doesn’t matter that I am what is unflatteringly described as middle-aged, or that I run a business, have responsibility for staff, for the P&L, or that I write award-winning political commentary that attracts both bouquets and brickbats and I am a mum.

The point is that right now, no matter who we are or what we have done, we are scared, and we are all looking for an anchor.

Last week my mum was admitted to hospital because in desperately trying to minimise her risk of catching COVID-19 by trying to dress herself before a carer came in, she fell. She dislocated her hip and tore tendons on the way down. I couldn’t bear the thought of her vulnerable, in pain and lying on her own, but the instinct to be with her has had to surrender to the reality of this bloody lockdown and her care was placed in the hands of others. I don’t want to be her risk.

But that pain of not being with loved ones is an ache that is real. So, who couldn’t feel for Nicola Sturgeon when her voice broke with emotion during a tough session in the Scottish Parliament when she was questioned on the daily horror of deaths in our care homes? She has her own mum who she hasn’t hugged in an age.

She may be the First Minister of Scotland, but that one tearful moment was a reminder that these seemingly never-ending life and death decisions made in the midst of a crisis and against an invisible enemy that she can’t yet hope to understand or contain sit on the shoulders of a mere human being. And I don’t envy her that.

Yet, as we witness the devastation that is being wreaked by this virus as it cuts its way through our communities like a hot knife through butter, leaving behind wounds that are not just physical and are still yet to fully transpire, we do walk some way in her shoes – we are all just trying our best, and in our own small way, to manage risk. To survive.

And that is why the revelations by a BBC documentary about Scots infected at a Nike conference held in Edinburgh in February, a month before the lockdown and only days before our now departed chief medical officer cheerfully posed with Scotland’s rugby team as she assured the public that there was little risk to anyone attending the sold-out Six Nations rugby match at Murrayfield that weekend, has caused so much consternation.

Sturgeon has asked for our trust, she has had our cooperation, we have responded to her calls to lockdown, to pull up the shutters, to stay at home, and save lives, but that conference should have been an early wake-up call to the wrecking ball that was coming our way. And we should have been warned.

I believe the First Minister when she says the so-called ‘normal protocols’ were followed. I trust her when she says there was no cover up. I acknowledge that numbers were duly reported and contact tracing was done. But these are not normal times. There was no explicit explanation about the cluster or the risk that could lie behind those seemingly individual innocuous statistics. Neither was there an obvious sense of urgency in terms of the safety for the Scottish public that might have been apparent when 25 people – eight of them Scots – tested positive following that one event attended by just 70 delegates from across Europe. Surely that ratio, that spread should have rung alarm bells enough to have suggested Scotland needed to do some immediate work on public containment or at least alerted the CMO to go canny in urging fans to attend an international rugby match in the same city a few days later when at the time even Nike was closing its stores around the UK and across the world for deep cleans?

According to the First Minister, information about the outbreak wasn’t made public because it would potentially have breached patient confidentiality because of the low numbers involved. That’s hard to swallow in these exceptional times and when the same principle simply hasn’t applied to care homes on the likes of Skye, where the community is only too aware of the names of all of those that have died and those that have been infected. Indeed, one of them was the 103-year-old granny of one of my staff. She also happened to be the aunty of one of my sister’s best friends. And as a result, I knew she had died even before Ailean, my staffer, called me. That’s Scotland. We are wee, we look out for each other and we have shown how we can come together for the greater good.

The real story of this pandemic will be of the everyday heroism of the public and its compliance with a lockdown that has gone well beyond what might have been expected of it. This hasn’t been easy. We have all gone through our own personal hells and at times, we have struggled.

But a public health crisis is by its very nature a public event. Sturgeon asked us to be part of the solution and at the very least should have treated us like grown-ups by giving us the full picture so when we manage our personal risk, we are not just doing it in a vacuum, we are doing it with full disclosure. And we could have been trusted with that early information about a conference in Edinburgh that the history books may well describe as Scotland’s COVID Ground Zero. And that might have been the moment that we went early, went hard and saved lives.

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by Mandy Rhodes - If all you have is to blame Westminster, then it's time to step aside.



Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top