BILL HEANEY’S NOTEBOOK ON THE STURGEON PRESS CONFERENCE

Tom Gordon, political editor of the Herald, got it in one when he described the handling of the sacking – was it a sacking or a resignation? – of Dr Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer on Sunday night.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon didn’t or couldn’t say which at her press conference in St Andrews House this afternoon.

Nor could she say what the financial consequences of this unprecedented “fiasco” or “clanger” would be for Scotland’s taxpayers.

No, she didn’t know whether Dr Calderwood’s commutation payment would be in line with other civil servants and local government officials who have been found wanting and pushed out the door, aided by a “golden parachute”. Rewarded for failure.

And she had no idea how much it would cost to drop Dr Calderwood’s pretty face and posh delivery from the Public Health Stay at Home advertising campaign currently running on TV and radio. £100,000 probably?

The First Minister wasn’t sure either if the facts and figures she was giving to the assembled journalists were correct since the method of compiling them had been changed in the past few days — “I’ll come back to you later in the week,” she said.

Someone there mumbled that she should have sorted that out, along with other important matters, such as the delivery of personal protection equipment for NHS doctors and nurses and private and council care home staff.

When would this finally happen, one reporter asked, and was there proper PPE equipment available to the healthcare worker in West Dunbartonshire whose death from coronavirus had tragically taken place over the weekend?

The First Minister said she didn’t have the answers the press was looking for, which begged the question why had she called the press conference in the first place.

However, the truth of the matter is that she was forced into it in the wake of Dr Calderwood’s departure. Would she go or would she stay?

It was either that or face being further monstered by a press pack who smelled blood.

The newspaper and TV men and women had already tasted it, and they were in mood for more, much more.

Sturgeon had spent much of Sunday putting her legal skills (she is qualified as a lawyer) to use making a wordy plea in mitigation for Dr Calderwood, whose salary was £125,000 a year when she took up her post five years ago.

Home care workers such as Catherine Sweeney, who died of corona virus,  are paid a miserly £9 an hour by the Council. And the West Dunbartonshire public lets them away with it.

It emerged that Dr Calderwood had spent two weekends in a row at her holiday home in Fife, ignoring her own advice to the public to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.

It was one of those “Do as I say, not as I do” moments. Even a ticking off by Police Scotland didn’t register with her the fact that she was up to her backside in alligators.

Confident, Cambridge educated and imbued with hubris, the dangers appeared to pass her by. Or were blithely ignored.

Semper Vigilo (Always Watchful) is the Latin motto of Police Scotland, but it must stick in Chief Constable Ian Livingstone’s craw that the Sun newspaper is regularly one step ahead of his Finest.

It must also greatly worry the Scottish public that in order to achieve open and honest democracy in this country and to expose the lies of public bodies and institutions – even the churches – that they have to look to Rupert Murdoch’s much vilified tabloid, which also recently broke the Derek Mackay story.

It’s now a good newspaper employing some excellent journalists. The establishment don’t like them, but that’s a badge of honour on any reporter’s escutcheon.

If politicians don’t lie and spin and mislead the public, why did Sturgeon go to such great lengths to repeat frequently that she was being candid?

Sturgeon established on Sunday that Dr Calderwood wasn’t the right person for such an important job, but she supported her CEO and made that lengthy plea in mitigation on her behalf.

Cynics might say that Calderwood would have been better off with Gordon Jackson QC., as her brief. After all, he got his client off the hook.

What now then? Dr Gregor Smith has been appointed Scotland’s interim chief medical officer following the resignation of Dr Calderwood who had led the country’s strategy on tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

So what do we know about Dr Gregor Smith? BBC news on line’s Paul O’Hare reports that on Saturday morning on twitter Dr Gregor Smith shared a picture of a soldier carrying a donkey through a minefield.

What Dr Smith did not know then was that this boss picture might have made a perfect illustration for the situation in which his boss, Dr Calderwood, now found herself.

The image, which was apparently taken during the Second World War, also featured an explanation of its significance.

If the donkey was left to its own devices, it would wander freely, detonate a charge and kill others.

It concluded: “The moral of the story is that during difficult times the first ones you have to control are the jackasses, who don’t understand the danger and do as they please.”

Dr Smith composed his own message to accompany the picture.

It read: “Please. You can do your bit to save lives this weekend and ensure our NHS is able to help those who really need it.

“Even if the weather is bright and warm, it’s important we stay home. Don’t let your actions or recklessness allow #COVID19 to spread.”

However, as Dr Smith hit the tweet button he could not have predicted the sequence of events that would play out over a remarkable weekend.

And he could not have imagined that one of those who would ignore the Scottish government’s no nonsense advice, that very day, was the country’s chief medical officer.

On Monday morning Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland that Dr Smith will now lead the team of clinicians spearheading the fight against coronavirus.

It includes Prof Fiona McQueen, chief nursing officer, and Prof Jason Leitch, the national clinical director.

Ms Freeman said the team had been immersed in Covid-19 response for many weeks now and would continue to advise the First minister on what needed to be done.

The health secretary also said it would be up to Ms Sturgeon whether a recruitment process would be opened to appoint a successor to Dr Calderwood.

In the meantime, Dr Smith steps up as the country is entering its third week of lockdown and the virus has yet to peak.

In the days and weeks ahead, the GP, who spent most of his career in Larkhall, faces a daunting challenge.

Dr Smith’s profile describes him as a “passionate advocate of person-centred approaches to care”.

This involves working in partnership with organisations such as Scottish Natural Heritage and the Forestry Commission to promote exercise outdoors.

A keen cyclist is also an honorary clinical associate professor at Glasgow University and a Salzburg Global Fellow.

As well as praising his NHS colleagues, the guitar-playing medic often shares his love of music on his Twitter account, most recently expressing his admiration for The Foo Fighters.

He also recently responded to an appeal from heavy metal icons Iron Maiden for fans’ most memorable moments.

Dr Smith wrote: “How do I single out one moment across 40 years? Maiden have been an anchor through bad and good times in my life.

“But singing along to The Clansmen in Aberdeen with 5,000 Scots screaming Freedom at the top of the voice was pretty special.”

What can I say to that then? We live in interesting times indeed.

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