SNP hierarchy’s arrogant swagger of invincibility has again been exposed

WE can all agree with Nicola Sturgeon’s assessment of her outgoing chief medic – that she was ‘transformational’.

It’s a fitting description of Dr Catherine Calderwood: after all, she transformed the government’s handling of the lockdown into a laughable sham.

She saw it as a pressing priority to ‘check’ on her holiday home on Saturday, accompanied by her entire family.

Her concern must have been bordering on paranoia, as it turns out she had been to her second property, in Fife, the previous weekend, on that occasion with her husband.

Well, everyone needs an escape now and again, but for most of us at the moment that amounts to a trip to put out the bins.

High-flying Dr Calderwood, on the other hand, could look forward to a jaunt to her coastal bolt-hole, until she was caught out, and publicly shamed.

But what does it say about Miss Sturgeon’s judgment that she strove to keep her Chief Medical Officer in her job, even after these disclosures had sparked widespread fury?

When the story broke, the ubiquitous Professor Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government’s national clinical director, asserted in a BBC interview that nobody knew the social distancing rules better than Dr Calderwood.

He was quite right, of course: as the woman who helped to develop the legally enforceable guidelines, which she spelt out in a TV advert, she had perfect knowledge.

But that only made her actions all the more reprehensible.

Soon afterwards, Miss Sturgeon joined the queue of apologists, displaying a tin-eared refusal to sack Dr Calderwood – something she should have done before Professor Leitch was allowed anywhere near a TV camera.

The indignity of police coming to Dr Calderwood’s door (presumably of her Edinburgh home) to warn her about breaking lockdown rules must have been almost unbearable.

Indeed, it appears that she may have suggested early on Sunday that she quit, but as Miss Sturgeon later conceded – rather worryingly – the First Minister needed her expertise and couldn’t afford to lose her.

This cleared the way for a televised media briefing – more of a pile-up than a car crash – featuring Miss Sturgeon, Dr Calderwood and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, happy to be out of the firing line for once.

There were profuse apologies from Dr Calderwood, delivered in robotic fashion and doubtless vetted by furious spin-doctors who had been ordered to save the nation’s top doctor from the scrap heap.

The media grilling was unrelenting, and Miss Sturgeon’s subsequent retreat, beginning that afternoon, was incremental.

First, Dr Calderwood was relieved of any duties that would put her in a public-facing role.

Then, with typically cynical timing as newspapers were going to press and news of Boris Johnson’s hospitalisation was breaking, it emerged that Dr Calderwood had quit.

This followed what Miss Sturgeon described as a ‘long conversation’ between the pair – but one wonders what they found to talk about when the matter should have been cut and dried… property prices in Fife, perhaps?

The prevarication of Miss Sturgeon and her team demonstrated an inability to grasp just how much damage had to been done to the credibility of their public health campaign.

It underestimated the strain that has been placed on pressure-cooker households around the country by the extraordinary upheavals the lockdown has caused.

But it also highlighted a defining truth about the Nationalist hegemony, and particularly its arrogance, sense of entitlement – and self-perceived invincibility.

(Nicola Sturgeon, Dr Catherine Calderwood, and Jeane Freeman)

After more than a decade of unchallenged rule, its upper echelons are convinced they can act with the swagger and impunity of medieval monarchs.

That provided cover for the SNP, in pre-virus times, to make a spectacular hash of the business of day-to-day governing.

If Miss Sturgeon believed that her top medic could stay in post, despite undeniable evidence of her gross hypocrisy, then – for her and her coterie – that was the end of the matter.

But what does it say about her costly team of advisers that they didn’t predict the inevitable fallout from this monumentally stupid PR strategy?

Or perhaps they did, and the boss wouldn’t listen.

Worst of all, isn’t there a stench of cover-up hanging around this whole unedifying affair?

Just take a look at the initial Scottish Government ‘line’ on Dr Calderwood’s day trip, which implied it was a one-off to check on her second home.

We’re told she knew she wouldn’t be able to get there for a while – quite a sacrifice, while her NHS colleagues are risking their lives and the coronavirus death toll mounts – so she had permitted herself a quick visit.

This didn’t take account of the earlier journey to Fife, which was only confirmed, by Dr Calderwood herself, at that bizarre press conference on Sunday.

True, spin is an integral part of the the modus operandi of any government – this one more than most.

But there shouldn’t be any place for it in a time of national crisis, when maintaining public trust is paramount.

When an administration believes it can suspend jury trials and abolish transparency laws, it isn’t hard to see why its senior figures thought they could get away with trying to bury the Calderwood debacle.

The tentacles of the SNP, after 13 years in office, now extend into every facet of public life, from the heart of quangoland – whose fat cat bureaucrats needn’t worry about the threat of being ‘furloughed’ – to the charity sector, and beyond.

It’s a mindset that confers on its nomenklatura a mistaken belief that the rules by which the rest of us must abide simply don’t apply to them.

A party driven by a cultish ideology, hard-wired into its DNA, will never concede ground to its critics willingly.

Consider how long it took for government and its cheerleaders to accept the game was up with the grotesque Named Person scheme – even after it was declared unlawful by the highest court in the land.

The justifiable fury of parents was a minor irritation for the SNP, which ploughed ahead regardless.

Some of the same blinkered thinking was evident on Sunday, when Miss Sturgeon believed she could defy political gravity – even at the cost of destroying her government’s public health ‘messaging’.

When the messenger is fatally compromised by catastrophic errors of judgment, they can’t be allowed to continue in their job.

But what about those whose first priority was to try to save the skin of that discredited messenger – a woman who ordered us to change our lifestyle, while failing to alter her own?

By her own admission, Miss Sturgeon has been left rudderless without the sage counsel of the expert whose advice she trusted to guide her – and the country – through a period of unprecedented turmoil.

But her decision to attempt to keep Dr Calderwood in her team wasn’t just a misinterpretation of the public mood, it was a major blunder by a leader for whom spin and self-preservation have become second nature.

Ultimately, she and the rest of her regime will have to face the judgment of those front-line care workers, nurses, doctors, and police officers who are relying on the public to observe the lockdown.

That job has become a lot tougher; while the rest of us – without the luxury of second homes – are left to contemplate the lengthy spell of virtual imprisonment that lies ahead.

*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on April 7, 2020.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Facebook: @sdmnewspaper