Growing anger as constitution handicaps coordinated response to Covid-19

As the country settles into what may be a long period of lockdown, this week saw the coronavirus crisis highlight some of the damage done to the UK’s ability to respond effectively by the wholesale devolution of health.

For starters, the Scottish Government are facing claims that their own poor testing regime is creating a ‘misleading picture’ of Covid-19 deaths north of the border, according to the Daily Record. Their official figures record only those who died after testing positive for the disease, and not those who pass away after developing symptoms but going untested.

The SNP are also under fire for their decision not to follow the ‘Nightingale’ naming convention for the new emergency hospitals. Whilst the styling will be used across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the Nationalists have decided instead to name their first field hospital after a Scottish nurse.

But anger is more acute in Wales, where voters are growing increasingly unhappy about their exclusion from various relief and support programmes the Government has rolled out in England, such as the ability for vulnerable people to sign up for priority supermarket deliveries. This is on top of the growing outcry over the Welsh Government’s insistence on setting up (and then botching the setting up of) a separate volunteer scheme to the ‘GoodSAM’ programme, which we covered last week.

Some Welsh Conservative MPs are apparently starting to get worried by the tone of their constituency post. But any call for more intervention by the Government would almost certainly spark a furious row with the Assembly group, who will naturally oppose any move which might diminish the importance of their institution (and thus, of themselves).

Nor is this problem confined to the UK. Politico reports that the left-wing government in Spain is apparently finding it extremely difficult to corral regional leaders behind a nationwide response, with devolved governments reportedly viewing the declaration of a state of emergency as a ‘power grab’.

This should serve as a warning sign to those who believe the British constitution can be balanced by more devolution: Spain’s strategy of café para todos – “coffee for all” – was supposed to achieve precisely this outcome by devolving power equally to regional units and hasn’t got close.

Meanwhile in an interview given before the outbreak of Covid-19 Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Conservative leader, launched a broad-spectrum assault on Sturgeon’s domestic record.

Scottish justice: SNP retreat from bid to suspend jury trials and more reading on Salmond

This week saw an important defeat for the Scottish Nationalists when opposition parties united to force them to abandon proposals to suspend trial by jury in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Ministers advanced the plan in order to help clear an apparently substantial backlog of cases. But it was attacked by senior lawyers as a “sinister attack on justice”, and the other opposition parties joined Tory MSPs in blocking the move.

Whilst we’re on the subject of courts…

Last week’s column reported on the augeries of a civil war inside the SNP on the back of Alex Salmond’s acquittal. Although coronavirus rightly dominates the headlines, this week has seen the publication of some great pieces on it for those of you who want to know more.

Top of the list must be this piece by Dani Garavelli at Tortoise Media, ‘Scotland after the Trial of Alex Salmond‘. It’s a great overview of how the trial was conducted and a cold first look at what the impact is and might be both on the women who brought the allegations and on Scotland more widely.

Next I’d recommend Ian Smart’s threepart series, ‘Grope over Fear’, examining what happened from his perspective not only as a long-time political opponent of the SNP but also as a trial lawyer. Finally, following Ian’s recommendation, this piece by Maurice Smith at the Scottish Review is worth your time too.