GOOD people are worth holding on to. I write that, at the outset, because if the Scottish Government’s strategy around the Catherine Calderwood furore can be summed up in seven words, it is those seven. Government and politics are always different, and during a time of genuine national crisis that is never so clear.

The days immediately preceding the peak of contagion during a pandemic would be, I am sure everyone can agree, about the worst imaginable time to lose any Chief Medical Officer, let alone one who is universally well regarded outside, and particularly inside, the medical profession.

A good person, everyone agrees. Worth holding onto, everyone agrees.

READ MORE: In Calderwood scandal Sturgeon had to prioritise public health over personal excuses

I said as much on Twitter, during the 24 hours between the breaking of the Sun on Sunday story and the resignation of Dr Calderwood as Chief Medical Officer, and again yesterday morning on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme.

Admittedly, however, I have had a fair amount of flak from a lot of people whom I both like and respect, and who profoundly dispute my analysis and feel that the First Minister badly mishandled the matter.

Furthermore, to be fair, opinions on Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of Dr Calderwood’s indiscretion are not entirely aligned to whether the holder of the opinion ticked a Yes box or the No box six years ago, as is depressingly common. On the contrary, I have spoken to, and seen comments from, many nationalists and SNP supporters who agree with unionists that Ms Sturgeon bungled Sunday in its entirety. That matters.

They see Dr Calderwood’s actions as having been indefensible, a case of one rule for her and another rule for the little people, and clearly deserving of an immediate sacking. They see Ms Sturgeon’s failure to do so as a failure of her leadership, even a case of her keeping a crony in post in defiance of all known political and PR gravity.

I understand this viewpoint, and the genuine anger Dr Calderwood’s actions provoked amongst the general public. And, even as someone who despairs at the political culture of calling for resignations, I think that the opposition leaders’ call for her to be removed was not unreasonable. In any normal time, they’d be right, and this would be an open-and-shut case.

However, I think the knee-jerk “Sturgeon screwed up” analysis is missing two critical factors. The first is an understanding of how politics and PR work during the fastest-moving news environment we have ever seen. The conventional political and PR gravity to which I referred are not present during coronavirus. There are no rules. That’s why a government can lock us in our homes and still poll at over 50%. That’s why a government can shut down an economy and retain the confidence of most people that it is doing a good job. That’s why a government can tell people not to see their nearest and dearest and be listened to. There really are no rules.

By observing the conventional rules of politics and PR, and immediately sacking Dr Calderwood, Ms Sturgeon would have taken every other option off the table. Instead, the CMO’s inclusion in the lunchtime press conference was not so much a vote of confidence as it was a buying of some time to see how the story developed, and to ascertain whether the CMO could be saved.

This may not have made for a pleasant few hours on social media, but I would contend that it was a good few hours of leadership (aside, perhaps, from the slightly cack-handed announcement that Dr Calderwood would remain as CMO but no longer front the campaign, which would never have worked).

Ms Sturgeon has plenty of political capital, and her team will rightly have judged that her personal handling of this is likely to be a 24-hour ‘bubble story’. We are enduring, or enjoying if you prefer, an unprecedented volume and scale of news.

Criticism of Ms Sturgeon’s management of the matter has PR competition with the Queen making an extremely rare address to the country, the UK Government Health Secretary suggesting that outdoor exercise might be banned, the election of a new leader of the Opposition, and the Prime Minister being admitted to hospital with the virus.

In other words, she could afford to take a hit if there was even a scintilla of a chance of keeping Dr Calderwood in post. Because good people are worth holding on to.

This first factor is connected to the second factor, that whilst Nicola Sturgeon the politician will have seen the attractiveness of a decisive sacking, Nicola Sturgeon the First Minister will have wanted to hold on to her coronavirus CMO by any means necessary.

Dr Calderwood is very well respected amongst the medical profession. In a former life I was employed in that world, and I know from those to whom I have spoken that they consider her medical leadership to have been invaluable in preparing for the looming peak in cases. They genuinely worry about doing this without her, and they question whether her shoes can be adequately filled.

And I suspect that, just as Professor Chris Whitty has become a crutch for Boris Johnson, Dr Calderwood will have become one for Ms Sturgeon. She is in the middle of a once-in-a-century crisis and sitting next to her at all times is someone who understands how to manage it. I’d argue that, far from being a failure of leadership not to sack her, it would have been a failure of leadership not to do everything possible to keep her.

This has been a sorry episode for everyone. It is a problem for everyone reading this column, because it is at least a distraction from the fight against coronavirus, and at worst a setback against it.

But it is perhaps also a lesson. A select group of doctors and scientists across the UK have effectively been co-opted by governments. They are now, to every degree, under the same scrutiny as politicians.

What we have seen exposed, in a brutal 24 hours, is that the “do as I say, not as I do” approach which often characterises the medical profession can work in a clinical setting, but leads to disaster in a political one.

Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters

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