FOR all that Boris Johnson tries hard to be statesmanlike he just cannot help himself sometimes. There he was in the Commons on Tuesday, announcing the easing of the lockdown in England while stressing the need for caution.

Then came the dig at Scotland’s First Minister. Flagging up the statement Nicola Sturgeon made yesterday, the PM gazed into his crystal ball and predicted it would be “uncannily similar to the one that I’ve just given”.

He was right, to some extent. The beer gardens of Scotland shall, like those in England, open. Hairdressers will snip, friends and family will meet indoors, cinemas will screen films. While the FM did not go as far as Mr Johnson in lifting the two metre rule, that looks likely to follow next week. Between this and the U-turn on schools, the pace of change is positively dizzying. It is like going on an extended ride on the waltzers.

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England, under Mr Johnson’s plan, will go further and faster. If anyone doubts how nakedly populist the PM is being, just take a look at the date for the easing of lockdown to begin – July 4, Independence Day in the US. When it comes to Scotland, independence remains a four letter word. Otherwise, Downing Street is delighted to celebrate the concept.

But here we are, getting ahead of ourselves. As the Prime Minister made clear, the virus is still out there, and if it becomes clear that there is a surge in new cases lockdown restrictions could be reimposed.

Really, Mr Johnson, who do you think you are kidding? Now that people are only too aware of how miserable life in lockdown can be, it would take a brave and uniquely gifted premier to persuade the public back into that jail cell, and we know Mr Johnson is neither.

He is acting quickly because of the economic catastrophe we, and the rest of the world, are facing. And to please his own backbenchers and party backers, of course. One might have a sneaking admiration for him if he came straight out and admitted to the latter, instead of trying to convince us that he is acting according to a well-thought out plan. If the strategy was that oven-ready, businesses in England would not have been hammering on Downing Street’s door on Tuesday seeking clarification.

As the PM spoke at what was to be the last daily briefing, Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, displayed obvious caution. When it came to the relaxation of the two metre rule they did not so much socially distance themselves from Mr Johnson as figuratively pick up their podiums and move to a neighbouring county. Professor Whitty’s assessment was frank. “If people don’t take the mitigation seriously, if people hear a distorted version of what’s being said that says ‘This is all fine, it’s gone away,’ yes we will get an uptick – for sure.”

He is not the only one concerned. A letter to the British Medical Journal, signed by the leaders of all the major medical and nursing bodies, warned that “the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk”. We know the truth of that already from the experiences of Germany and South Korea, two countries massively more successful than the UK in dealing with the pandemic.

The letter urged the UK Government to look at how well prepared the country is for a second wave. That warning must be heeded. Much has been made by Governments across the UK of how they have been dealing with unprecedented and fast-moving events that they could not have seen coming.

That was always debatable . As the virus spread from China to mainland Europe it was plain what was needed and what worked. Yet the lockdown came too slowly and the testing strategy was abandoned too quickly. Being unprepared for a second wave will be inexcusable, and that goes for Edinburgh as much as London, Belfast and Cardiff.

It is fear of a second wave that has been cited as the reason for Nicola Sturgeon’s more hesitant approach to easing the lockdown. The FM has indeed played cautious cop to Mr Johnson’s all-over-the-shop cop, the Juliet Bravo to his Jack Regan of The Sweeney.

Both have made mistakes. There has been too much hiding behind the skirts of science instead of taking the lead. Too many pronouncements made from podiums instead of finding out what it has really been like living in lockdown.

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That is why there was such anger over the travels of Catherine Calderwood and Dominic Cummings. It is also why the policy of blended learning was never going to survive contact with reality.

From the start of this crisis people have wanted to be treated like grown ups. Edinburgh and London are finally catching up with that. There needs to be more straight talking about the risks and dangers that lie ahead. Key to charting a way through them, and getting ahead of a second wave, is a fully functioning system to test, track and isolate. Let us not take our eye off that prize.

Mr Johnson has more need for candour than the First Minister. Of the two, she has been the more forthright and credible. As such, only the wilder elements in her party would even think of calling for her to go if there is a second wave that could have been prevented.

You can bet your last mask, however, that should the worst happen in England the Conservatives will dump Mr Johnson. They have never really warmed to him and they certainly do not trust him. He was sufficiently appealing to a large enough swathe of the electorate in England to win a General Election and save their seats, and that was what mattered to them.

Then the virus arrived and showed that they had been right all along about his weaknesses. He was lazy, ill-prepared, and indecisive. A follower when a leader was needed.

If there is one thing on which all sides can agree is that in time there must be an inquiry into the handling of this crisis. How much easier for Mr Johnson’s party if they could blame their mistakes on someone who had departed for the backbenches. Stay alert, Mr Johnson.