The Fall Guy: Humza Yousaf takes a tumble as Scottish Government’s failings on health exposed again –

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Someone — not, as is often claimed, Churchill — said the best argument against democracy was five minutes with the average voter.

Except, that is, in Scotland, where two minutes with the average Cabinet minister will produce much the same effect. Humza Yousaf didn’t utter a peep at First Minister’s Questions but his ears must’ve been burning because the whole 45 minutes was a raised-voices, furrowed-brows, heavy-sighing run-through of his report card after five months as health secretary. It was less a parliamentary Q&A than an incredibly awkward parents’ night broadcast live on BBC Scotland. Mammy Nicola took her wee angel’s side, of course, but she did so with a look that said: ‘Just wait till I get you home.’

Things were already going badly for Yousaf. Reliant on a knee-walker thanks to a recent badminton injury — you couldn’t get more Broughty Ferry if you tried — the health secretary who earlier this week warned Scots to ‘think twice’ before phoning for an ambulance tried racing his scooter up a notoriously slippery corridor outside the debating chamber only to dokey over and land in a manner reminiscent of Stan Laurel. The health secretary has a knack for slapstick comedy: he’s three stooges for the price of one.

Having already beclowned himself, Yousaf volunteered his face for another cream pie by whipping out his phone and griping to Twitter about the BBC’s political editor Glenn Campbell posting a video of his tumble. That he got so salty only guaranteed that the clip was shared farther and wider on social media. The nine-second scene is this generation’s Zapruder film. Years from now, people will ask, ‘Do you remember where you were the day Humza Yousaf made a complete prat of himself?’ and other people will reply, ‘Sorry, could you narrow it down a bit?’

Coalition of stasis –

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The partnership agreement between the Nationalists and the nationalists who call themselves Greens was inked last week but there was no vellum, no pomp — and no wonder. Sold as a great innovation in the operation of government in Scotland, it is in fact a tawdry treaty planned, drafted, agreed and signed for one purpose only: meeting the present political needs of the First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon has never excelled as a minister but as a backroom plotter she is second to none. There is a delicious villainy to what she has done and as she detailed the scheme on Friday afternoon, her oblivious prey on either side of her, I am certain I detected a Machiavellian twinkle in her eye. Her snare could not have been more obvious if it had the word ‘trap’ beside it in flashing neon lights, and still they leapt right into it.

The Scottish Greens believe they have joined a government. They have actually just undergone a hostile takeover. Not a permanent one, for they will be dropped when they are no longer needed and all the baggage from their time in government will crash down on their heads swiftly thereafter. They might protest that they got red lines written into the agreement but there is not one of them that will have pained Sturgeon to concede. Who cares what Ross Greer thinks about private schools? Given how many on the SNP benches attended one, the party will be only too happy to let the Greens have that issue.

The Union is more than a dividend –

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The annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) report, laying out the state of Scottish public finances, is regarded as a national balance sheet of sorts. It is heavy on economic analysis and statistical methodology. The latest edition, published yesterday, was different from its predecessors in that it provided a glimpse into the financial mechanics of 2020, the year when Covid-19 arrived and upended many aspects of our lives.

Amidst thickets of tables and percentages, there can be spied the outline of a dramatic campaign, on a scale unseen anywhere since the Great Depression, to prop up the economy and save jobs and businesses from the rough torrents of a ruthless pandemic. We have heard already about the UK Government support schemes for companies and the furlough system that kept almost one million Scots off the dole queue last year. But GERS gives us the first comprehensive survey of the extent of state intervention and prompts us to consider what might have been had Scotland no longer been eligible for cash transfers from the UK Treasury.

Scotland’s public finances are in abysmal shape, a fact established by previous GERS publications, yet 16 months on from the beginning of the pandemic there are encouraging signs on the economic horizon as businesses begin to ring their tills again. In spite of a towering deficit, elevated public expenditure and a global oil price that hasn’t closed north of $100 in almost seven years, Scotland weathered the most unforgiving of storms. It did so all because of a much-maligned but enduring Union that, 314 years on from its formation, has proved itself to be more formidable and more necessary than ever. It is an extraordinary tale told in numbers.

Nicola Sturgeon deserves to lose –

There are no moral victories at the ballot box and no consolation prizes. The losing side sometimes tells itself otherwise to cushion the blow of another rejection. Neil Kinnock is said to have won ‘the battle of the campaigns’ in 1987, because his ground operation was savvier and his presentation slicker, but come election night Mrs Thatcher was returned for the third time in a row with another landslide majority. Democracy is not a morality play, it is cold, hard numbers.

The cold, hard numbers tell us that the SNP won more than double the constituency vote of the Conservatives and Labour in 2016. For the Tories to become the largest party after May 6, they would have to hold on to every seat they took last time then take a further 17 from the SNP. To say this is a prospect not entertained by current polling would be an understatement.

No political party is entitled to win an election but oftentimes governments deserve to lose them. No government in the devolved era has deserved to lose quite as thoroughly as this one.

Nicola Sturgeon’s response to Covid-19 has been spun as a triumph but when the lights go down on her daily BBC Scotland slot, the facts remain the same. As of last week, Scotland has a higher infection rate than England or Wales and a higher daily mortality count than any other part of the UK. The UK Government has serious questions to answer over its handling of the pandemic but at least it gets asked them. The SNP has been underscrutinised for its lack of preparedness ahead of the pandemic and its management in the early weeks and months of the crisis.

Health chiefs warned during a 2016 pandemic planning exercise that there were ‘significant business-as-usual staff shortages, making stepping up in an emergency even more challenging’. Internal emails have also shown that the Scottish Government was aware of shortages in PPE supply before the pandemic hit. In the event, hospital staff were issued with expired equipment, including out-of-date respirators.

Nicola Sturgeon deserves to lose