Nicola Sturgeon is acting as if her handling of Covid-19 has been better than the UK Government’s … She’s using her imagined record to argue for leaving the UK during the recovery.” – Former Better Together head strategist Blair McDougall on Twitter, April 4.


A BBC poll found that 74 per cent of voters think Nicola Sturgeon had handled the crisis well. Only 19 per cent think the same of Boris Johnson, with 62 per cent saying he has been a failure.


McDougall is a Labour Party activist and was previously the paid strategist for the Unionist Better Together campaign, during the 2014 referendum. As the main architect of “Project Fear”, McDougall believes in negative campaigning.

McDougall told a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference in Manchester that making a positive case for the Union “would have made people feel nice but it would have made the 40% who already agree with us feel nice. So there was a constant drumbeat to talk about identity.”


McDougall has posted a sequence of tweets attacking the Scottish Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Most involved selective film clips designed to portray the SNP Government’s response as inadequate, and in stark contrast to the correct actions in other European countries. McDougall seems very keen on the pandemic response of the French Government, which is odd given France is now experiencing a third lockdown.

Note: McDougall’s criticisms are all focused on March 2020, the first month of the crisis. McDougall carefully and deliberately ignores all subsequent policy developments in which the Scottish approach has deviated from that of England.

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McDougall’s first criticism refers to March 3, 2020, when Health Secretary Jeane Freeman (following Boris Johnson) said there was as yet no medical advice against shaking hands. However, the clip McDougall plays clearly shows Professor Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government’s senior clinical advisor, warn that handshaking is only advisable if both parties have washed their hands. McDougall’s miniscule clip from Freeman follows a lengthy piece of Boris buffoonery. McDougall’s selective editing is a masterclass in deception.


McDougall posts a clip of Chris Witty, the Conservative Government’s chief medical advisor, promoting herd immunity, ie: the need to accept that Covid would have to spread through a significant percentage of the community before sufficient natural resistance would slow the disease. However, massive resistance to the concept from most scientists and observers squashed the notion.

In Scotland, as another long clip from Jason Leitch shows, the approach to herd immunity was very guarded from the beginning. In fact, Nicola Sturgeon is on record as rejecting a strategy of herd immunity on the grounds it is "ethically wrong" and would only work if the most vulnerable sections of the community were isolated for prolonged periods.

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McDougall seeks to prove the Scottish Government was as tardy as the UK administration in imposing a comprehensive lockdown. It is well known that the UK was one of the last European countries to impose a lockdown. Italy began its lockdown on March 8. UK and Scottish administrations did not order a lockdown till March 23.

However, the power to impose a general lockdown was not available to the Scottish Government under the original devolution legislation and had to be provided for Scottish ministers in Schedule 19 of the new Coronavirus Act. The latter only took legal effect from March 25. It would have been impossible for the First Minister to have imposed a lockdown prior to this date.


MacDougall raises the early transfer of elderly patients from hospitals to care homes, a move that spread the infection in a vulnerable demographic. A later study by Public Health Scotland found that 78 infected patients were discharged to care homes between 1 March and 21 April, before testing was mandated.

However, the same study found that the actual (as opposed to potential) spread of the virus in this manner was limited. A more probable cause of the high death rate in care homes was the movement of infected staff and the proclivity of the disease to spread rapidly in the very large establishments. Such nuances are missing from McDougall’s edited highlights.

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Since March 2020 there has been a divergence between the Covid response in Scotland compared with England. For instance, the Scottish First Minister decided to extend Scotland’s restrictions just as Boris Johnson began to ease them (prematurely, as it transpired) in May 2020. This divergence is ignored by MacDougall.

According to Professor Devi Sridhar, an expert in public health at Edinburgh University and one of the First Minister’s key advisors: “If you look at the charts and the devolved nations, Scotland does come out in terms of lowest case numbers. At the start, in March [2020], it did just as badly, but since then, in the summer, we got the numbers low.”


Another “project fear” from McDougall, and just as selective with the facts.

The National: National Fact Check Mostly False