As someone who actually looks after someone with a serious disability, and who is immunocompromised, my tolerance threshold for breaking COVID rules is pretty low. My view is that even if rules no longer exist, people should still be willing to voluntarily take steps to protect other people, if even just for the selfish reason that an overloaded NHS means a delay to their own potential treatment should they, themselves get sick. However, for my part, just because it’s the right thing to do.
So when I saw the First Minister, particularly after the hoo-ha at Westminster over lockdown parties, failing to wear her face mask – I must honestly admit that kind of pissed me off a little bit. And who in similar circumstances wouldn’t be pissed off about it? It’s a situationally appropriate response to someone making a stupid mistake this deep into the pandemic game.
So this article is by no means condoning the First Minister’s cock-up. It is, however, to directly challenge the Tories lies in this situation.
The First Minister cocked up, that’s been established. However, immediately after it became public, the Tories in their twisted echo chamber, began to formulate how that could be used to their political advantage – and someone somewhere decided to send out an edict to their politicians and spokespersons pushing an out and out lie, screamed in unison:
All together now: “The SNP said, Ministers who break the law should resign!”. Never one, not to acquiesce to the party spin, Murdo Fraser is always a good example of the bottom of the barrel in the party. If there’s a tory lie going around, it’s a good bet it’s featured prominently on his timeline. See! Told you so!
So what’s wrong with this picture? Well, that’s not what SNP MP’s and MSP’s have actually been saying at all. Indeed, they have been directly quoting this provision of the ministerial code with respect to Boris Johnson. Section 1.3(c) specifically states the following:
Put simply, MPs and MSP’s across both parliaments have not been screaming for the resignation of the Prime Minister because he broke lockdown rules that he himself had a hand in establishing – but, instead, because he continually lied about the fact he had broken them.
That is a huge distinction!
Again, I do not endorse the First Minister failing to wear a face-covering. But what I will say is that forgetting to cover your face (by act or omission) is a far cry from repeated and deliberate group gatherings in a government building despite knowing that no gatherings should be taking place.
It’s the difference between a speeding fine and reckless and dangerous driving and then lying about it. The two things do not compare.
What the tories are trying to do is “whataboutism”. The act of pointing at the political opposition and yelling: “We know our guy did wrong, but what about….”. By pointing at an indiscretion of an opposing politician, they hope to deflect scrutiny away from Boris Johnson’s team who repeatedly and deliberately flouted the rules, by trying to make out that the poor conduct of one person at a low level, is somehow justification for others breaking the rules at a much higher level.
Make no mistake, political spin is both an art and a science. There are entire fields dedicated to it. In fact, I had the pleasure in 2013 of actually visiting Lancaster university and speaking to a professor who actually teaches it as part of his course.
You combine this whataboutism with Boris Johnson suddenly being unavailable for Prime Ministers Questions and what you get is the Tories trying to deflect long enough that people just give up and move on to the next political scandal.
At some point in our lives, all of us will fall foul of the law, whether we know it or not. By that I mean, you’ve likely broken a law or two without knowing it (because the law is so complex), it’s just there was no police officer or authority around to spot you doing it. Everyone at some point in their lives will be guilty of a minor legal offence, it’s just a fact, and that’s why the ministerial code is written the way it is.
It makes a clear distinction between an offence and lying about an offence because you can still trust a person who commits an offence (so long as it’s not a trust offence i.e. fraud etc) and freely owns up to it. Indeed, without being pedantic, the willingness of a person to freely admit they cocked up and put their hands up and accept punishment is actually the hallmark of honesty, not dishonesty. It not only recognises that they did wrong and accepts that, but also shows that they are beholden to, and follow the same laws as the rest of us.
What Murdo and all of the other Tories are doing is patently dishonest. Parliamentarians are NOT calling on the PM to resign because he committed the offence, although the fact that it was deliberate and repeated, again and again, shows he has no respect for the laws he helps create, which would definitely be a good argument to remove him as PM. The parliamentarians are calling on him to resign because he committed the offences AND THEN REPEATEDLY LIED TO THE PARLIAMENT AND TO THE GENERAL ELECTORATE.
That’s a big difference here. It’s a matter of public trust, not a matter of committing the offence – what makes it worse is the fact that every single one of the Tories trying to conflate the two, are themselves being deliberately dishonest with the electorate, which puts them all in the same bag as the leaders whose actions they are trying to obfuscate.