Iain Macwhirter Iain Macwhirter

Nicola Sturgeon wasn’t the only one to politicise the pandemic

Scottish secretary Alister Jack (Credit: Jane Barlow/PA Wire/PA Images)

Nicola Sturgeon ‘could cry from one eye if she wanted to,’ Alister Jack told the UK Covid Inquiry this morning. It was an interesting medical observation from the Scottish Secretary presumably intended to suggest that the former first minister’s emotional moments in her evidence yesterday were contrived. Sturgeon fought back tears a number of times when she insisted she just wanted ‘to be the best first minister I could be’ during the pandemic, resolute in her denials that she had had ulterior political motives.

‘I didn’t believe it for a minute,’ Jack, the Tory MP for Dumfries asserted, roundly accusing the former first minister of politicising the pandemic. Sturgeon had told the Covid Inquiry she’d had no knowledge of a cabinet minute, from June 2020, which indicated that the Scottish government was planning to restart the independence campaign ‘with the arguments reflecting the experience of the coronavirus crisis’.  

Sturgeon was always on the lookout for ways to promote her country and her government. It’s what politicians do

So Jack claims this means the SNP government were trying to exploit the pandemic – and the Pope’s a Catholic. Sturgeon has devoted her life to the cause of independence and it is ludicrous to suppose that she somehow parked her passion during the pandemic. She was always on the lookout for ways to promote her country and her government. It’s what politicians do. 

Let’s not forget that the UK government was doing exactly the same: trying to assess the risk to the Union during the pandemic and attempting to mitigate that risk. We know this from Michael Gove’s ‘State of the Union’ presentation to cabinet in July 2020. He told ministers that ‘protecting and strengthening the Union must be a cornerstone of all that we do’. Jack even echoed this in his own evidence this morning: ‘My job is to go out and strengthen the United Kingdom and sustain the United Kingdom,’ he told Jamie Dawson KC, ‘I do that every day of my working life.’

Jack went on to complain that the Scottish government ‘always tried to do things slightly differently’.

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Written by
Iain Macwhirter

Iain Macwhirter is a former BBC TV presenter and was political commentator for The Herald between 1999 and 2022. He is an author of Road to Referendum and Disunited Kingdom: How Westminster Won a Referendum but Lost Scotland.

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