Devi Sridhar: An independent Scotland would've done better against COVID
A high-profile member of the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 Advisory Group says Scotland would have been better able to battle the pandemic as an independent country.
Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, said Scotland’s response to the crisis had been “constrained” by being part of the UK.
In a wide-ranging interview with Holyrood’s Politically Speaking podcast, Sridhar also praised First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership and handling of the pandemic.
More than 90,000 people have died in the UK since the start of the pandemic, with figures published earlier this week by Oxford University’s Our World in Data showing the UK currently has the highest daily death rate in the world.
However, asked if she thought different decisions would have been taken in an independent Scotland under Sturgeon, Sridhar said: “Yes, definitely.”
And she said those decisions would likely have led to a different outcome, with lower rates of death being recorded.
She said: “I think, yes, we could have hopefully been more like a Norway or a Denmark. Already, if you look at the charts and the devolved nations, Scotland does come out in terms of lowest case numbers. At the start, in March, it did just as badly, but since then, in the summer, we got the numbers low.
“But I think there are constraints. Any time you want to put in a package, an economic package, to be able to support hospitality because we have to shut it, it’s a negotiation at the start. That was a really stressful time, (asking) can we actually shut hospitality? Though we thought that was the right thing to do at the point from the Advisory Group perspective.
“So, yeah, I think it is really hard because we’re not getting the support that we require to be able to go the full way we want to go. It’s hard because, I think, you saw in the summer the talks about elimination and zero Covid, clear focus on getting numbers low – we never saw that clarity of vision from England and that’s really hard. We’re still not getting it, and I hope we will get it, but it might take a few more months.”
Sridhar has repeatedly been the subject of attacks on Twitter for what have been construed as pro-SNP views, and last year appeared to block MSPs including Murdo Fraser and Alex Cole-Hamilton from following her.
However, she says her views are not party political, but simply reflect the situation as she sees it.
Asked about First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s performance since the start of the pandemic, Sridhar said: “I do feel much safer right now being in Scotland, knowing that there’s a leader in charge who takes the health of the public incredibly seriously and takes her job really seriously and is hard-working.
“I think across the political spectrum - and this is more my daily life, not social media, which I don’t take as a reflection of real life - in daily life anyone I speak to, regardless of what they believe or what party they support, has said that she (Sturgeon) has done a remarkable job.
“She has done her daily briefings, she has been serious, she has been credible and she has been trying to do her best for the country. We have to give respect where it’s due. It’s not a political point – it’s a point about showing up and doing your best for the country. I’ll take the heat for saying that, I don’t mind. I will speak what I think is right.”
Sridhar said that a best-case scenario for the next six months would be a continued roll out of the vaccination programme, which would allow the country to return to some form of normality, albeit with some restrictions still in place.
But she said the “nightmare scenario” was a new variant of the virus which was resistant to the current vaccines.
According to the latest Scottish Government figures, there have been a total of 164,927 confirmed cases and 5,376 deaths in Scotland since the pandemic began.
To hear the full interview, go to https://www.holyrood.com/podcasts.htm or search for Politically Speaking wherever you get your podcasts.