Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 551

Issue # 551                                                            Week ending Saturday 9th May  2020

If You Love Garlic, There is No Better Time to Enjoy it Than During Lockdown by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

We thought everyone in Stornoway had stopped caring last Thursday. I had the evening all planned including going out to clap at 8pm. We would watch Scotland Tonight until 8pm, just before the Martin Lewis Show which would show us how to save a packet in lockdown. Scotland Tonight ended so then it was time to go and cheer for the carers. Mrs X began to clap loudly while I banged the frying pan with the saucepan. What an unholy racket.
No one else in the street came out. Not like them. Something was wrong. Herself was shouting that I must have got the time wrong.  How could I? I had got the time off the telly. We scuttled back inside and then realised what happened. We had been watching Scotland Tonight on STV+1. Our neighbours must have thought we were right wallies.

We would be wallies if we were not careful about our diet. It is too easy to scoff too much of the wrong stuff when you are not socially distanced from your fridge. In my case, that distance is about half a mile. The good news is that I have now decided to go on a healthier kind of diet. Every morning I have a Neil Diamond smoothie. Swede, carrot, lime.
How does it go? “Hands, touching hands. Reaching out, touching me, touching you ...” Stop. Just imagine that bit.

Sweet Caroline is such a romantic song - at any other time. Despite the restrictions, love can still thrive. The Lonely Hearts ads have to be a bit different. Maybe “Single man with toilet rolls would like to meet single women with hand sanitiser for good clean fun.” Romantic phone calls are much longer now. They chat for ages and then they are about to say they have to go and then they realise everyone knows they are going nowhere because no one has any other place where they have to be.

Mrs X and I are well past that sort of lovey-dovey stuff, of course. The bonus is we both love garlic and now we can both eat as much of it as we like. Garlic is normally really antisocial. Your breath can really smell for many hours afterwards. The lockdown means we don’t get close to anyone who might complain. Also, you apparently can’t smell it off anyone else if you have been devouring it yourself. We put it in everything. We’d two boiled eggs with minced garlic for lunch.

Come here, garlicky wife. Past it? No way. Phew, what is that stink ...?

Those who are taking this plague seriously are investigating shopping without leaving the house. It’s great but the supermarkets that do deliver are busy. It wasn’t easy but I managed to get a delivery slot for our online shopping. So I’ve ordered turkey, sprouts, Christmas cake, crackers and a pudding. Meanwhile, I have spent the best part of a day arranging our spices and herbs in alphabetical order. Mrs X was not impressed that I was being so meticulous. She said: “I really don’t know where you find the time.” So I said: “It’s next to the tarragon.”

The science community has found that the spread of coronavirus is based solely on two things - how dense the population is and how dense the population is. There is no point whatsoever in trying to discuss the effects of the virus with someone convinced it is not a real danger. Such people assume a kind of weird religiosity and are simply not prepared to talk about facts. Many try and fail. As Judge Judy Sheindlin, my queen of daytime TV, says to wide-eyed glamourpusses who try to pull the wool over her eyes: “Beauty fades but dumb is forever.”

Not being dumb in any way at all, Mrs X has been determined to use the lockdown weeks in a positive way. Her latest move is to declutter the entire house. It’s a big job but she insisted she will be getting rid of anything that doesn’t make her happy. It’s going well, except when I try to get back into the house. Meanwhile, I have finally started doing DIY. I am now repairing our doorbell. Mrs X told me to leave it because, for some reason, she says I am not very good at doing electrical jobs. Well, she’s in for a shock.

And it is a shock how nice the weather has been. The other day I was hungry after a long, hard day watching the news. Mrs X was out mowing the garden. So I went and asked what was for dinner. Not happy. “I can’t believe you’re asking me about dinner right now. Imagine I’m on a photography job in Uist. Figure dinner out for yourself.” I went in and made myself a steak with potatoes and garlic bread, all washed down a can of cold beer. She finally walked in when I was finishing. She said: “Ah, you did make something to eat? Where's mine?”

I said: “Why did I think you were on a photography job in Uist?”

First Phase of Edinburgh's Garden District Approved
The first phase of a plan to build thousands of homes on Edinburgh's greenbelt have been approved by Scottish Ministers.  Murray Estates, controlled by former Rangers owner Sir David Murray, has secured planning permission in principle for 1,350 homes.  The company said 330 of the properties would be affordable housing.  A primary school, shops and a 40-acre community park are also planned for the site.  The wider £1bn Garden District project could eventually see 6,000 homes built over 20 years.  The development has been proposed for land in west Edinburgh, and is bounded by the A8, A720 Edinburgh city bypass and Glasgow-Edinburgh railway. The Royal Bank of Scotland's headquarters is on the north-west side of the site.  Edinburgh councillors had previously voted in favour of the plans at a planning committee and then a meeting of the full council in 2016.  Scottish ministers called in the planning application for determination because of potential impacts, including on infrastructure.  Following scrutiny by a government-appointed planning official, ministers have agreed to grant permission in principle subject to conditions. These include Edinburgh councillors' approval of the project's masterplan.  In its decision, the Scottish government said the benefits of the proposed scheme outweighed the loss of green belt at the location. The first phase could create up to 150 jobs initially and then sustain 137 jobs longer-term.

Aberdeen Market Traders’ Plea for Help As Plans to Demolish Their Premises Are Approved

Aberdeen’s market traders have warned there must be affordable space for them in the city once their premises are demolished – or they will be forced out of business.  Councillors signed-off on plans to knock down the 1970s building in Market Street earlier this week, to make way for an 11-storey office-led development. With Patrizia’s propsosals for the site and the adjoining former BHS in Union Street approved, calls are being made for information about what will done to accommodate independent start-ups when the space is lost.  Aberdeen Market Village leases the building from the developer, and sub-lets to the retailers and food outlets that call it home.   Angus Kerr, who owns the market-based Thai restaurant Madame Mew’s with his fiancee Mew Garthley, said they had “nowhere else to go”.  He said: “There is certainly nothing like the market in the city centre for small businesses. We were approached by one of the Aberdeen shopping centres at one stage about moving but it was a complete non-starter on the basis of them wanting £250,000 up front.  The building is very, very tired and we get reasonably cheap rent because it’s not the most luxurious. It makes it affordable for small businesses.  He added: “I’m not against the redevelopment itself. I just want there to be an outlet for small businesses as some of those in the market wouldn’t exist anywhere else. If we were left facing paying high street rates, we would have to consider closing – and I think that’s the same for every business in that market.”  Another tenant, co-founder of Avo restaurant, David Griffiths, voiced his disappointment the beneficial aspects of the market would be lost. He said: “In the city centre this has been a place to start businesses, with fairly low risk and short-term leases.  There is no other place like this as an alternative to a shopping centre.  That’s what is really needed to support the local economy in the city centre.” But market traders, who qualify for business rates relief for small businesses in their current premises, fear a move to the Granite Mile would expose them to vast cost increases.  The council’s lead on the city centre masterplan, Marie Boulton, promised to allay traders’ concerns once lockdown restrictions were lifted.  “There are around 40 empty shops in Union Street, so when we get back to normality I would like to speak with the retailers about having them there – we don’t want to lose independent traders from the city centre,” she said.  “Our city centre is changing and the planned redevelopment of Queen Street will provide opportunity for ground floor units, while the owners of BHS are in discussion with traders about some of them moving in.  I would hope, if we worked smartly, we would be able to put together the right financial environment to see traders come back to Union Street.”

Jobs Lost After Stornoway Cafe and Shop Go Into Liquidation
A company running a café and shop at one of the largest arts venues in the Western Isles has gone into liquidation.   Twenty-one people worked for An Lanntair Trading Ltd. They were made redundant immediately prior to the liquidation.  The outlets are part of An Lanntair arts venue in Stornoway in Lewis. An Lanntair Trading Ltd was a subsidiary of the operators of the centre.  The centre closed in March in line with efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus.  Local councillor Donald Crichton said the loss of so many jobs was a blow to Lewis.  He said it was hoped that the cafe and shop could be revived when the wider arts venue was able to reopen.  Mr Crichton said the islands' council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, would offer support to the venue.

Scottish Snowsports Miss ‘One of Best Springs in Years’

Scotland's mountain snowsports have missed out on weeks of good conditions. Glencoe, Nevis Range, Glenshee, Cairngorm and the Lecht shut to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.  There was stormy weather in February and late March but the good weather and snow kicked in just as the sites were closing down.  Winterhighland Ltd, which provides information on snow conditions, said it had been "one of the best spring seasons in years". The company, which has webcams covering popular ski runs, said the recent good weather would have only added to the frustration. Jamie Riley, from Winterhighland Ltd, said: "The last day the lifts operated at Glencoe a snow depth of over 6m (20ft) was measured in the Main Basin. We've had six weeks in lockdown and the weather has been good every weekend, weeks of fantastic spring snow and sunshine, plus still decent deep and wide cover on much of the mid and upper mountain at Nevis and Glencoe.  The Met Office reporting that April 2020 was the sunniest April in Scotland since records began was just rubbing it in." Mr Riley added: "It's painful seeing the good snow and great weather from afar on the webcams." Scottish Mountain Rescue, which represents more than 20 search and rescue teams, has thanked the public for resisting the temptation to head into the hills.  It said: "We would like to send a special thank you to all for the continuous support our teams have received over the recent weeks - it's appreciated more than you know.  We hope you have a lovely weekend and remember to stay safe, stay local and stay well."  People have been discouraged from taking part in outdoor activities since 21 March. The public are being asked to continue to heed warnings not to travel.

Pictish Community Lived by the Sea But Ate No Fish
A Pictish community in the Highlands ate beef, lamb and pork but not fish even though they lived next to the sea.  Archaeologists made the discovery from analysing the bones of skeletons at a site in Easter Ross.  The Picts were seafarers and had the skills to catch fish but experts believe they chose not to because they revered them.  Dr Shirley Curtis-Summers studied 137 skeletons buried under Portmahomack's old Tarbat Parish Church.  The remains represent hundreds of years of Highlands history, including Pictish periods starting from the 6th Century.  The large-scale isotopic analysis found the Picts' diet contained barley and some beef, lamb and pork. The meat was from animals that were farmed or hunted.  But fish from rivers or the sea were not part of their diet.  Dr Curtis-Summers, of Bradford University, said the Picts may have believed fish to be magical, pointing to the carvings of salmon the Picts made on standing stones.  She said this belief may have come from old superstitions and folklore.  Later, some Pictish monks who set up a monastery at Portmahomack did eat fish but only in small amounts.  By mid-medieval times fish was being consumed and people in the area were also trading in fish.

Glasgow Makes Street Changes to Help Physical Distancing
Scotland's largest city is changing some of its road layouts to allow more physical distancing to take place.  To prepare long-term for social distancing, transport bosses in Glasgow have introduced measures to create space for people in popular places.  The plan started on Saturday with the closure of Kelvin Way in the west end.  Paths along the banks of the river Clyde will be widened to create more space between walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users. Glasgow has been at the forefront of the push for temporary footpaths and cycle ways as a means to thwart the spread of coronavirus.  Last week, the Scottish government announced a £10m package of support for such measures.  On Thursday Nicola Sturgeon urged people to stick with the lockdown.  Ms Sturgeon said there was evidence that people were beginning to venture out more, warning that "if everyone starts easing off, the virus will quickly take off again".  She said car travel - while still far lower than pre-lockdown levels - had increased by 5%, and by 10% in some towns and cities. Uses of concessionary bus travel was up by almost a sixth last week.  And she said people should stick to social distancing while taking their daily exercise and on essential trips outside.  The closure of Kelvin Way to vehicle traffic will allow greater space for people undertaking daily exercise in and around Kelvingrove Park.  Plans to widen Clyde Street and Broomielaw to ensure pedestrians, cyclists and wheel chair users can be physically distant safely at all times are also at an advanced stage.  Both Kelvin Way and the Clyde Walkway have both been heavily used by people using the current exercise exemption to staying at home and concerns have been expressed about the ability to follow the 2-metre rule in these places.  Glasgow City Council sees additional public space for physical distancing as a key component in the economic recovery of the city.  Wider pavements and paths will help to enable safe access to shops and business premises in the city centre.  Other areas with high pedestrian footfall such as Byres Road and Partick, Dennistoun, Shawlands and Maryhill have also been identified as places where the temporary measures can be introduced.  Pollok, Drumchapel, Easterhouse and Castlemilk have also been identified for support.  Leader of the council, Susan Aitken, said: "When lockdown begins to ease, it is vital that we do everything we can as a city to keep the coronavirus at bay.  We want to ensure that people are confident that they can move safely around the city, and access workplaces, shops, pubs, restaurants and other business when they begin to reopen. This is crucial not only for the health of our citizens, but also the health of our economy.  Rethinking road space to allow for wider footways will be essential for people accessing businesses, public transport and other facilities, and these types of measures will be an important tool in getting the city up and running again."  It is also hoped a boom in cycling due to a fall in car use in the city during lockdown will support environmental gains.

Police ‘Find Drugs Worth £300k’ in Clydebank Industrial Unit
Police have allegedly found drugs worth a total of £300k in a Clydebank industrial unit. The cannabis plants were reportedly discovered when officers, acting on information, searched industrial units on Glasgow Road, Clydebank.  The search took place on Friday,  at around 1am.  Two men, aged 29 and 31, have been arrested and charged in connection with the recovery and are due to appear before Paisley Sheriff Court.  A full report will be sent to the procurator fiscal.

'Shortages' in Supplies of Hospital Protective Equipment

Scotland's largest health board has warned there have been shortages of some coronavirus protective equipment.  NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said the current supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was more stable now but "short supplies of different elements" of equipment were occurring.  In a new paper, the health board revealed it had, at times, been forced to buy PPE "at above usual prices".  Global demand for gloves and masks is at unprecedented levels.  Nicola Sturgeon has previously said there were "adequate stocks of the main PPE" but acknowledged difficulties with delivering gowns.  However, a survey by the Royal College of Nursing suggested half of all nurses working in high-risk environments had been asked to reuse PPE.  In a paper for the interim's board's meeting on 5 May, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde stated "work continues both locally and nationally to ensure staff have the right PPE at the right time".  It added: "Whilst the current number of Covid-19 positive patients appears to have stabilised, the sourcing, supply, distribution and usage of PPE continues to evolve and require improvement and refinement, including preparing for any "second wave" outbreak.  Whilst the current supply of PPE is more stable, there remain issues of PPE supplies from the National Distribution Centre. This supply issue is reflected at a UK level.  Since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, this has included national short supplies of different elements of PPE at various times, lack of clarity on supplies and erratic deliveries."  The paper said this was symptomatic of the increased demand and added, "these shortages have resulted in the procurement team (at times) bypassing normal tendering processes to purchase stock at above usual prices".  The NHS National Distribution Centre in Larkhall is where PPE is gathered before being passed on to all of the health boards.  Between 1 March and 23 April more than 90 million PPE items were delivered to Scotland's hospitals and eight weeks' supply of protective equipment was delivered to GPs during the week of 30 March.  The NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde paper gives an insight into the volume of patients the board is dealing with, reflecting the fact it is the most populous part of Scotland.  As of 1 May, the board had a total of 538 confirmed Covid 19 inpatients in hospitals, with a further 441 suspected Covid 19 inpatients.

Coronavirus: 'Significant' Outbreak At Skye Care Home
A "significant" number of residents and staff at a care home on Skye have tested positive with Covid-19.  The outbreak was first detected at Home Farm independent care home in Portree last week.  Local MP Ian Blackford said 28 of the home's 34 residents and 26 of its 52 staff had tested positive.  In a joint statement, NHS Highland and Highland Council said there was no evidence the virus had spread further into the community.  They have not released details on the number of cases but urged islanders to adhere to government measures to tackle the infection.  Mr Blackford, SNP MP representing Skye and Lochaber, said having such an outbreak on Skye was "shocking and worrying".  He pointed out that there were no ventilators on Skye and that the nearest one was 112 miles away in Inverness.  He said: "Enhanced case monitoring has been put in place, public health guidance has been reinforced and steps have been taken to ensure the family members of those affected are fully supported. As well as putting in place testing for all residents and staff members, the availability of testing at the NHS hospital in Portree will be complemented by a mobile testing unit being established at Broadford from today, run by the 3 Scots battalion of the Army.  Critically, contact tracing is going to be an important part of our capability in dealing with the outbreak of Covid-19, this will be a vital part of NHS Highland's response."  Every member of staff at Home Farm who has tested positive has been asked to self-isolate for seven days. Those they live with have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days.  NHS Highland and Highland Council said Home Farm had put in place extra staffing, and the health board had made available a support team.  Dr Ken Oates, director of public health at NHS Highland, said: "There is no evidence at this stage that Covid infection has spread further into the community.  The measures that have been put in place will support us in ensuring, as best as we can, that the outbreak is contained as possible."

Controlled Explosion After Bomb Experts Called to Portpatrick

A controlled explosion has been carried out after a boat picked up unexploded World War Two ordnance.  Royal Navy bomb disposal experts said a dredger picked up the explosive in water off the south of Scotland.  The alarm was raised shortly after 14:20 and the harbour at Portpatrick in Dumfries and Galloway was sealed off by police and coastguard.  A Royal Navy spokeswoman said the device was moved to safe location and a controlled explosion was carried out.

Loch Ness Turned Into Dump by Fly-tippers
One of the most scenic landscapes in the Highlands has been blighted by fly-tippers. Inverness man Ken Lyons took pictures of waste he found in lay-bys between Dores and Foyers by Loch Ness on Sunday.  Rubbish included carpet and underlay, a large wall clock, a vacuum cleaner, a window blind, white goods and even a 42-inch TV tipped into the loch itself.  He branded the mess “absolutely disgusting” and speculated it could be linked to the coronavirus pandemic, as Highland Council’s recycling centres are currently closed.  He said: “We know that area pretty well and it wasn’t there last week.  I also think it is linked to coronavirus because no one can get to the tips. It is pretty shocking.  People should just be more patient and hold on to things until the tips reopen.”  He also speculated whether the dumping could be down to rogue traders who had promised householders they would dispose of the items properly.  However, he said it was not just larger items littering the lochside, adding: “If you are driving along that road, the other thing you notice is coffee cups. People drive out to enjoy the countryside and throw them out the window.”  A Highland Council spokesman said: “Our household waste recycling centresremain closed and are likely to remain so until the travel advice changes. We continue to monitor national guidance and will be ready to reopen our centres at the earliest opportunity.”

BBC ALBA Highlights to Help You Through the Lockdown
Upcoming highlights on BBC ALBA include Julie Fowlis on Ceòl aig Baile; ‘An Taigh-Fuine’ The Bakery and a look back on the 2019 shinty season.  Filmed during lockdown, the multi-award winning Gaelic singer and presenter Julie Fowlis from North Uist presents a new music series for our times.  Julie became famous worldwide after singing the theme songs to Disney Pixar’s animated children’s film ‘Brave’, set in the ancient highlands of Scotland.  Julie Fowlis ‘Ceòl aig Baile’ is a music series that takes place at an extraordinary time in our history.  The series gives musicians, deprived of playing live concerts, a virtual stage and an opportunity to perform directly from their homes to viewing fans.  This series invites musicians from Scotland, Ireland, Europe, Canada and the US to connect with fans and to perform in a visceral way, appealing to feelings as much as intellect.  Each half hour episode , which airs on BBC ALBA from Thursday, May 14th at 10pm will feature six tracks of music and each programme is given to a pair of musicians to curate.  Between the musical tracks, the musicians reveal a little about their locale and situation and can tell their own story, or simply introduce the songs and music, explaining why the song or track is relevant to the moment.

PM 'Must Show Respect' to UK Nations Over Lockdown
The SNP's leader at Westminster has said Prime Minister Boris Johnson's coronavirus strategy must "show respect" for the UK's devolved nations.  Ian Blackford said it was important for the whole of the UK to be pulling in the same direction.  Mr Johnson will review the coronavirus lockdown in England with his cabinet later, after suggesting some rules could be eased from Monday.  But Mr Blackford says the PM should be working to build a UK-wide consensus.  He told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme: "In a situation like this, when lives really are at stake, it is important that we do things in the correct manner.  "I'm extending that hand of friendship to the prime minister. All of us want to work with him, but he has to show respect to the devolved administrations."  By law, the UK Wetminster government must review the lockdown every three weeks, and Thursday marks the latest deadline.  The prime minister will address the nation on Sunday to outline plans for the next stage of the lockdown.  The "stay at home" message is expected to be scrapped in England, with ministers keen to restart the economy.  Options for easing the lockdown will be discussed with representatives of the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland later.  Mr Blackford said it may be the case that future advice in Scotland is different to that in the rest of the United Kingdom.  He said: "We know that the infection rate - the R rate - in Scotland is slightly above the rest of the UK.  First and foremost, the public would expect us to look after the interests of the people that live here."

Plans for Low Emission Zones Paused
Plans for low emission zones in Scotland's largest cities have been "paused temporarily" in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Scottish government has said.  The zones in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee were expected to be implemented later this year. Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said the pandemic had "resulted in necessary changes to priorities across government and across our local authority partners". He added: "The Scottish government is fully committed to tackling air pollution in the quickest time possible.   Given the recent uptake in active travel and air quality levels we are going to take the opportunity to review how Low Emission Zones can be designed and how our cities might witness a green recovery transformation in tandem with the Covid-19 recovery plans."

Dundee Duo Raced the Same Stolen £37k Mercedes Car Through City

A pair of racers have been locked up after they were both caught driving dangerously in the same 150mph stolen car.  Both nearly smashed into police cars and one upended a lamp-post as they tried to make high-speed getaways in the £37,000 Mercedes GLC.  Police deemed the driving around the residential streets of Dundee to be so bad that they gave up the chase because of the danger it posed to the public.  One of the duo reversed at high speed across a roundabout and said he was “offered a shot of a top end car and could not resist it”.  Alan Phillips and Reace Stewart dumped the car and it was later traced by police after the owner’s tracking device revealed its whereabouts. Phillips, 21, from Dundee, admitted driving dangerously and overtaking at excessive speed, going through a red light, and narrowly avoiding hitting a police car. He also admitted resetting the car, and driving while banned and with no insurance in Dundee on October 31.  Reace Stewart, 21, from Dundee, also admitted driving dangerously and at speed, entering a roundabout the wrong way, hitting a lamp-post and narrowly missing a police car.  Depute fiscal Marie Irvine told Dundee Sheriff Court that the powerful Mercedes was stolen from a caravan park in St Andrews.  Sheriff Lorna Drummond remanded both in custody for reports.

Eddie's Maid of the Loch Repairs Keeping it in the Family

An engineer from East Kilbride has carried out essential repair work on the Maid of the Loch - 70 years after his father helped build the ship.  The remarkable connection spanning seven decades has delighted Eddie Van der Stighelen, whose Belgian father was foreman of the engineering workshop at the Glasgow shipyard where the much-loved Loch Lomond paddle steamer was built.  Eddie, whose company specialises in construction industry tools and plant maintenance, offered to restore the Maid of the Loch’s windlass after discovering via social media that help was being sought with the ship’s renovation.  However, the work took on a much deeper significance because of the family’s connection to the ship.  Eddie explained: “My father, Jan Van der Stighelen, was a Belgian national who served in the Belgian Merchant Navy from before WW2 until the war’s end.  My parents had met during the war and were married in Glasgow in 1943, but after the war they returned to Belgium where their first two children were born.  In 1951, the family moved from Belgium to Glasgow and my father started working for the A&J Inglis shipyard at Pointhouse.  Later that year, work started on building the Maid of the Loch, and as foreman of the engineer’s shop, his skills would have been in much demand.”  The Maid of the Loch was constructed at the Glasgow shipyard, but was dismantled and brought to Balloch where her sections were reassembled.  Eddie said: “My brother, who is four years older than me, remembers being taken in my father’s van to Balloch, presumably to the slipway where the Maid was constructed and launched into Loch Lomond.”  The ship’s windlass, which is required for handling the mooring warps, was in poor condition, and had to be dismantled, cleaned and inspected to ensure it could still be made to work again.  Eddie said: “Thanks to the quality of the materials used and the robustness of the design the windlass renovation is almost complete.”  Now he hopes his company, Vantech Engineering Services, will be given the chance to carry out more work on the ship.

Sturgeon is on A Collision Course with Johnson. And There's No Doubt Who Scots Trust
by Ruth Wishart
Her grownup approach contrasts with No 10’s. But on Sunday’s lockdown decision, Westminster holds the keys.  Every lunchtime, Nicola Sturgeon gives a Covid-19 briefing, customarily flanked by her health secretary and the chief medical officer. Occasionally it will feature alternative personnel such as the national clinical director, or the chief constable, but Scotland’s first minister is there, front and centre, every day.  She begins with that day’s Scottish coronavirus statistics and goes on, in detail, to indicate what advice her government is getting and how that is likely to impact on its recommendations to a locked-down public. The media questions which follow have lately concentrated on the constitutional implications of any perceived deviation from the “four nation” strategy for dealing with the virus (in which England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have the same policy). On Thursday, however, the day the English tabloids ran headlines describing Monday as “Lockdown Freedom” day, some palpable irritation burst through.  It would have been good, Sturgeon suggested, to have learned of any proposed changes from the prime minister himself rather than from reading the front pages at midnight. It might have been useful to have been included in a Cobra meeting that day but there wasn’t one. Instead, the first minister gathered that Johnson would phone round the devolved administrations later that afternoon. Her unstated message was pretty clear – a tablet of stone from Downing Street, with the message already chiselled thereon, was no way to run a cooperative railroad.  It was the starkest illustration of a fraying partnership already strained by previous media coverage. Why was her Scottish briefing held earlier in the day, some London-based commentators had demanded? Was she trying to steal a march on the Downing Street operation? Didn’t she know her place?  Criticism of Sturgeon reached fairly farcical levels the day she was taken to task for recommending face masks in places where it’s difficult to observe social distancing. Much mockery ensued. Until, of course, the prime minister came up with the same advice two days later. Then the complaint changed to why she’d again pre-empted “the boss”.

It would be wrong to pretend the Scottish government has not made its own mistakes in response to this virus. Scotland too has had its share of tragedy in care homes, not least in a privately-run home on the island of Skye, in the constituency of SNP Westminster leader, Ian Blackford. But the government has set up a specific email hotline to deal with gaps in PPE provision. And it recently took delivery of a massive supply bought and airlifted from China. Yet there has been a very discernible difference in tone, manner and transparency in the daily briefings. The Scottish government, having insisted it wanted a grownup conversation with the public, has published a series of papers over the weeks outlining what it has been told, and how that will inform future judgments. There has also been no apparent rift in Sturgeon’s cabinet over the economic impact of a lengthy shutdown. They insist that saving lives is the first priority.  But herein lies an uncomfortable dilemma for the devolved administrations within the UK. On issues such as job retention subsidies, they are joined at the fiscal hip to Westminster. As Scottish finance secretary, Kate Forbes, and Scottish business secretary, Fiona Hyslop, noted in a joint letter to Rishi Sunak this week, they do not themselves have the levers to operate any similar stand-alone scheme in Scotland. The stark fact is that Scotland could not keep its workforce locked up if Sunak were to scrap the Treasury’s support across the UK.  Meanwhile there is incomprehension as to why – given the capacity for mixed messaging – we have to wait until Sunday evening before Johnson unveils his roadmap for easing the lockdown. However hard Dominic Raab tried to row back from Thursday’s headlines, nobody seriously believes the papers weren’t briefed from Downing Street.  And there’s genuine anger, too, at the suggestion that the “stay home” segment of the  government’s advice slogan may be dropped. That could, argued Sturgeon, be a catastrophic error of judgment, leading to both confusion and non-compliance with other restrictions. The Covid-19 crisis has brought Sturgeon hugely favourable personal ratings, whereas in Scotland Johnson has never been flavour of the month. (His Scottish party is now led by Jackson Carlaw, a pale imitation of the robust Ruth Davidson.)  In addition, Scots have responded well to a daily forum that encourages debate and discussion – and where politicians are prepared to admit a lack of knowledge – rather than the repetitive recitation of mantras that is the hallmark of No 10’s daily press conferences.  A vox pop in Scotland on Thursday night underscored the credibility that Sturgeon has built up during the crisis. Almost everyone questioned suggested that they would go with whatever Sturgeon thought would keep them safe.  On this particular issue, the first minister seems to have attracted widespread trust in Scotland, and the public seem prepared to take their cue from her rather than accept the latest dictum from Downing Street. Yet that trust will be tested to the full if Johnson veers too sharply off the current messaging on Sunday night. • Ruth Wishart is a Scottish freelance columnist and broadcaster

Coronavirus in Scotland: Key Figures and Trends as at 8 May 2020
This summarises all the key data relating to the coronavirus outbreak in Scotland.  It uses figures from Public Health Scotland (PHS) which are released daily by the Scottish government on its website and during its daily briefing.  The figures show that 1,811 patients in Scotland have died after a positive test for Covid-19, although the actual number of deaths is known to be far higher.  Weekly data published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) shows that up until 3 May there were 2,795 deaths registered in Scotland.  The NRS figures are higher because they include all cases where Covid-19 is mentioned on a death certificate, even if the patient had not been tested. The PHS figures are based on the deaths of those who had tested positive for the virus.  The way PHS collects figures on coronavirus deaths means there appear to be big drops in the number of deaths over the weekend and on a Monday. However, this reflects a delay in the recording of the data rather than an actual drop in deaths.