I chatted on the phone with a friend in Spain yesterday and suggested that we swap Prime Ministers. “Pero nadie quiere el tuyo,” she replied. Which is Spanish for “But no one wants yours.” Not even the British Government, if Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s absence from the daily press briefings is anything to go by. Although it’s not unreasonable for him to turn over the gig to one of the Tory minions since he’s not the only cabinet member who can lie through their teeth while looking smug. However when the Tories said leave means leave, no one realised that they meant the Prime Minister’s holidays, sick leave, and paternity leave. Even Trump turns up for his press conferences.
Compare the last time that Nicola Sturgeon had a day off from the daily briefings and answering questions, to the last time Johnson actually did a daily briefing, and now tell us which one is making a mess of managing the crisis Ian Murray. Johnson only shows up when there’s some glory in it that he can use to lubricate his brittle sense of self-esteem, and he’s typically faced with a fawning press pack that wants us to rejoice because he’s spawned again.
Has anyone seen Boris Johnson? Last anyone noticed him was when his photo was on a milk carton. He must have suffered dreadfully during his bout of covid-19, because it seems to have disappeared his body all together. They updated the list of recognised symptoms for covid-19 this week, but I’m not aware that invisibility was included. Our part time Prime Minister couldn’t even be bothered to turn up and vote for his own government’s immigration bill, and there’s usually nothing that turns on a Tory as much as making life crappy for immigrants. But then we remember that this is a guy who literally hid in a fridge during the General Election rather than face scrutiny, so it’s not like we weren’t warned. Scotland saw through his schtick, but we’re lumbered with him because England was suckered. Thanks Better Together. This must be that best of both worlds and the strength and stability of the UK that they were telling us about.
Although we shouldn’t complain too much. The British Government does seem marginally more competent when Johnson isn’t around. Even when their science guy tells us that the British Government insisted that travellers to the UK who arrived from Wuhan on 30 February needed to go into quarantine. Coincidentally, the 30th of February is also the one date in the year when Michael Gove isn’t a smug annoying oily nyaffette.
You can’t schmooze a virus. You can’t bullshit it. You can’t give anonymous briefings to friendly hacks in order to discredit it. We have a Prime Minister who shows up once a week for Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, where he is invariably unprepared and unready for questions that anyone with an ounce of sense will see coming from the leader of the Opposition. Without the rows of howler monkeys on the Tory benches behind him, Johnson is a lost and hollow figure of a man at the head of a lost and hollow British state.
Yet despite this, Johnson still enjoys a free pass from large and significant parts of the British media. The BBC in particular has been very quiet about Johnson’s repeated absences from work while at the same time it’s happy to attack the Scottish First Minister in an attempt to insinuate that Nicola Sturgeon’s overriding priority is to create divisions within the UK that are useful to the independence cause. We saw that yesterday on the main news bulletin on BBC1 at 6 and again at 10 when the Corporation’s main Scotland correspondent Sarah Smith – the one who didn’t get her job because she’s the daughter of a former Labour leader – told us that Nicola Sturgeon “enjoyed” the opportunity this terrible tragedy gave her to diverge from Westminster. Twice in her piece to camera she asserted that Scotland is out of lockstep with the rest of the UK, when in fact it’s England that’s out of lockstep with the other three nations.
After Nicola Sturgeon tweeted at her that never in her entire political career had she “enjoyed” anything less than having to deal with the heartbreaking deaths of so many, Sarah was forced to make one of those sorry not sorry apologies about the wording of a report that she’d clearly enjoyed making. She corrected herself to say that she had in fact meant to say that Nicola Sturgeon “embraced” the opportunity to diverge from the rest of the UK.
So that makes it all OK then. The First Minister wasn’t enjoying herself but according to the BBC’s Scotland correspondent her main priority is still to score partisan political points at the expense of the Precioussss Union™. And it’s still Scotland that’s out of lockstep, because it’s what England does that is the standard by which such considerations are judged. Got it. Thanks for clearing that up, Sarah. Your tweet will have the exact same impact upon the public as a report that was broadcast twice on the main news bulletins of the BBC. I mean that with all the sincerity of Sarah’s apology. Well, I say apology, it didn’t actually contain the word sorry, not even in the Priti Patel sense of “I’m sorry you felt that way.” It was equally smirking though. It was only later that Sarah was forced to clarify her clarification and say that she was in fact sorry.
The thing is however, even the corrected allegation is not true. Nicola Sturgeon has not “embraced” the opportunity to diverge from Westminster. On the exact same day that Sarah claimed that the First Minister enjoyed/embraced the opportunities to diverge from London, Labour’s Ian Murray was lambasting her for not having diverged much sooner – even though he and Sarah would have been the first to criticise her if she had. It is obvious to any impartial observer that the First Minister would far prefer that the British Government acted sensibly and realistically and consulted the other nations properly. She’s only diverged reluctantly and where she felt she needed to in order to protect public health in Scotland. At every step along the way Nicola Sturgeon has taken immense pains not to do precisely what Sarah Smith has accused her of, using this crisis as a means to leverage divergence between Scotland and the rest of the UK in order to build support for independence.
We have a Prime Minister who is even worse than Theresa May, who is pretty much universally judged as being worse than David Cameron, who when he left office was regarded as the worst Prime Minister in living memory because in an unforced error in an attempt to prioritise internal Conservative party politicking, he’d created the Brexit mess we’re still in. Yet the forces of British nationalism in Scotland are far more concerned with attacking the Scottish Government. They’d prefer to draw a discreet veil over a woeful British Government which is tying Scotland’s hands in case calling attention to it might make people think there’s a justification for Scottish independence.
This matters. It matters because in their non-stop politically motivated attacks upon the Scottish Government, they risk undermining public support for the clinical, medical, and scientific advice that the Scottish Government wants the public to follow. There are already enough British nationalist idiots in Scotland who say that the Scottish Government doesn’t speak for them. All these reports do is to validate them when they insist that they’re not going to follow the Scottish Government’s advice, and that puts everyone at risk.
It matters because it inhibits the Scottish Government from taking decisions which are rigorously and firmly based in science and medical evidence, because Holyrood always has to look over its shoulder in case it has to fire fight an angry response from a British nationalist media that’s primarily motived by SNPbad and opposition to independence.
It matters because in their desperation to head off anything that could be used to justify or reinforce pro-independence sentiments, the British media in Scotland is failing to stand up for Scotland within the UK. Even on their own terms they are failing. They are failing because they are not treating this political construct that Scotland is enmeshed in as the union that they’re always telling us it is, but as a unitary state where Scotland is expected to do what England’s rulers tell it.
When we do get out of the other side of this crisis, it won’t just be the British state which is held up to scrutiny by an angry public. No one in Europe wants the British media either. The public will also want answers from a British media which has failed so dismally to hold the British Government to account and which has been doing exactly what it accuses the Scottish Government of – using this crisis in an attempt to score political points.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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