As I See It: Terry Murden
Nicola Sturgeon certainly doesn’t have her troubles to seek. In the space of a few weeks she has lost four key figures she may reasonably have expected to be pillars of strength.
First the Finance Secretary quit over a texting scandal; her predecessor’s dirty linen has been washed in public, and on Friday the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates said he would be stepping down over some indiscreet comments he made on a train. Last night the First Minister’s chief adviser on the virus crisis resigned after failing to follow her own advice. What a mess.
Each has been a test of Ms Sturgeon’s own abilities to handle a crisis and thus far she has emerged with some sympathy, regarded as an unintended victim of the indiscretions of others.
This latest fiasco is different. During her daily press conference the First Minister was bombarded with questions on what later emerged to be two trips made by the chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood to her second home in Fife.
Ms Sturgeon was left looking indecisive and mealy-mouthed for not firing Dr Calderwood as soon as the news broke.
In truth, both women were damaged by this episode, initially seen to be offering paper thin excuses, then within hours effectively retracting those excuses by saying Dr Calderwood’s staying on was “not a risk either of us is willing to take”.
It beggars belief that Dr Calderwood could ignore her own advice, symptomatic perhaps of those in powerful positions who arrogantly take a view that they are somehow above the rest of us.
She made herself look foolish by her untimely trips, left unsatisfactory answers about the reasons why she made them, and compromised the First Minister, though only to an extent that Ms Sturgeon was prepared to compromise herself. It was a rare misjudgement by the First Minister to cut the CMO some slack on this matter.
Her defence – that everyone makes a mistake – proved to be built on weak foundations, especially when it was revealed the Dr Calderwood had made the “mistake” twice over successive weekends.
This was not a case of the country’s top medical adviser ignoring a campaign on healthy diets or oral hygiene which might have deserved a ticking off. This was a matter of life and death with the whole population as potential victims. The tut-tutting at her misdemeanour quickly turned to anger, particularly after the police issued a warning to Dr Calderwood, but no penalty. Others who have been hit with a £60 fine for walking their dog wondered why the CMO had been let off so lightly for letting the country down.
For Dr Calderwood and the government credibility has been at stake. Reports soon swirled around social media of people sniggering when Dr Calderwood’s stern-faced image appeared in televised public information adverts just as the hypocrisy over her own behaviour was unfolding. No one was able to take her message seriously any more.
Two ill-judged visits to her home in Fife were followed by equally ill-judged excuses that mocked the public’s intelligence and tolerance. For that, the First Minister will need to reflect on her own response to this debacle.