May 22, 2020 Blog

Scottish Government must learn from its ‘catastrophic mistake’ in handling of Nike outbreak

No government could avoid making mistakes when faced with an unprecedented crisis like this.

The true test for political leaders is how they respond to those mistakes and the lessons they learn.

That’s why it’s the job of the Labour Party to support governments when they get things right, but also to ferociously scrutinise their decisions so that we can help the country choose the best road to recovery.

And that’s precisely what we’re doing.

At Westminster, our new leader Keir Starmer has held the Tories to account time and time again, and has already had policy successes such as the Immigration Health Surcharge being scrapped.

Boris Johnson simply can’t cope with Keir’s forensic approach on behalf of the people of Britain.

And in Holyrood, Scottish Labour MSPs are standing up for workers, for tenants, and for care home residents. We are taking on the SNP’s fake rhetoric.

As an MP in Edinburgh, a huge amount of my time in recent days has involved responding to concerned residents following the revelations about a coronavirus outbreak in the city centre in February, which was covered-up by the Scottish Government.

It took a BBC investigation to uncover the facts, highlighting that an earlier lockdown could have saved Scottish 2,000 lives, and then for worried workers and businesses to get in touch with me before the true scale of the scandal became clear.

There was a catastrophic failure to contact trace those who met with Nike delegates.

Workers fell ill with flu-like symptoms and had no idea why.

Businesses were closed to be disinfected and the public had no idea why.

All of us made choices to attend large scale sporting and entertainment events, but were in the dark about the potential risks.

The Scottish Government made a catastrophic mistake, yet it still refuses to accept this.

The First Minister has resorted to ‘patient confidentiality’ claims, when nobody is asking for names – and hiding behind this is contrary to Scottish public health laws anyway: legislation she voted through herself as Health Secretary.

She then passed the buck to health professionals, refusing to take any responsibility for her own government’s decision.

And worst of all, she has played the ‘politicised’ card. To suggest that seeking answers on behalf of concerned residents and scrutinising government is ‘politicised’ is a dangerous path.

The reason the Nike issue is so important is because of the timeline of events.

When the conference was held, lockdown was still some way off and mass gatherings were still being held. It wasn’t clear if the public would accept a lockdown.

But being told that one person with coronavirus attended a 70-person conference in Edinburgh, and 25 people subsequently became infected, would have changed the public discourse.

It would have encouraged people to closely follow public health guidelines and built support for lockdown measures.

It may have led to calls for big sporting events such as the Scotland v France at Murrayfield to be called off. It would certainly have given fans the chance to decide if they still wanted to go. The public had to be informed so they could make individual choices.

And it would have encouraged people such as the kilt-fitters and tour guides who met delegates to come forward, perhaps preventing further spread.

But it’s not just about looking backwards.

Making this outbreak public would have led to earlier calls for a ‘test, trace, isolate’ strategy – something we now accept is vital to supressing coronavirus, and something that Richard Leonard has been highlighting in Holyrood.

Yet today we remain far behind the rest of the UK and other countries on this.

We have double the rate of care home deaths than the rest of the UK, an overall death rate that is one of the worst in Europe, and one of the worst testing rates anywhere in the world.

So, I make no apology for continuing to probe on behalf of the people I represent. It’s my job. It’s our job as an effective opposition.

It is not healthy for our democracy to attempt to shut down dissenting voices, and it certainly won’t help us chart the best path through this coronavirus crisis to recovery.

Governments should learn from their errors and apply those lessons to the national response to COVID-19, so that we can all be fully informed and get through this crisis together.

I am proud to be part of a Labour Party that is working constructively to achieve a better outcome for everyone in Scotland and across the UK.