Nicola Sturgeon slams 'invidious' attacks on civil servants advising on Covid-19 response

Written by Beckie Smith on 20 May 2020 in News
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“Politicians decide and we should be subjected to scrutiny," first minister says after criticism of clinical director

Photo: Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA Wire/PA Images

Nicola Sturgeon has slammed “invidious” attacks on civil servants following criticism of Scotland’s national clinical director, Jason Leitch.

At a media briefing on Scotland’s handling of the coronavirus crisis this week, the first minister said MPs should criticise elected politicians, who “can answer back”, rather than civil servants.

Sturgeon was responding to comments from Labour peer Lord Foulkes, who tweeted that he was a “wee bit fed up” of Leitch’s “lecturing us ‘here in Scotland’ at every advertising break”.


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Leitch has fronted public service announcements about the coronavirus measures, similar to those recorded by England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty south of the border. Scotland has different measures in place to England.

Backing Leitch, Sturgeon said there was “something really invidious about a politician in particular attacking a clinical director or official who is there to offer advice”.

“If anyone has criticisms to make they should make them of the elected politicians because we firstly are accountable and are in a better position if we find those criticisms unfair or not well founded, we can answer back.

“Politicians decide and we should be subjected to scrutiny and, where it’s justified, we should be subjected to criticism.”

Responding to Foulkes’s comments, Leitch said it “feels appropriate” for him to share the Scottish Government’s advice on Covid-19, given it had diverged from being followed in Westminster.

“I’m simply trying my best to keep the population as safe as I can and give the best advice I can,” he said.

The latest jibe followed a string of attacks on civil servants in Scotland from both politicians and the press.

Scottish Labour MP Neil Findlay was also rebuked last month for criticising the medic.

He said Leitch had “called it wrong” on several occasions, including on testing numbers, PPE supplies and school closures.

Scotland’s health secretary, Jeane Freedman, responded at the time: “If you disagree with Scottish Government decisions, raise it in the many forums open to you, politician to politician.

“Don’t have a go at a government adviser acting in good faith, with many years of learning and international experience but who can’t respond – as you know fine well.”

Allan Sampson, the FDA union’s national officer for Scotland, welcomed Sturgeon’s comments.

“It is wholly unfair for civil servants to face these kinds of attacks within the press when they are unable to respond publicly, especially when such reports come from anonymous sources,” he said.

“Civil servants advise, ministers decide, so any criticism should be directed towards politicians who are accountable for decision-making and able to respond.

“Politicians across the UK should be standing up for the dedicated public servants doing incredible work in response to Covid-19 throughout our four nations.”

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Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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