WELL, here we go again. The British Government has again introduced a significant change to its policy on dealing with the coronavirus epidemic without consulting the Scottish Government.

Or indeed any of the devolved administrations, which ought to shut up those pursed-lipped British nationalists in Scotland who insist that the duly elected Scottish Government doesn’t represent them because it’s really just Thatessempee and Boris Johnson is perfectly justified in not speaking to “that woman”.

Only it won’t shut them up. They’ll still insist that Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t speak for them, and if she tells them to stay at home while the message from Boris Johnson is merely to stay alert, they’re going to get out and prowl the streets of the nearest town centre with a Union Flag-themed baseball bat hoping to waylay the virus as it lurks around a corner. That’s the plucky British way.

Over the weekend, someone in Number 10 anonymously briefed the right-wing press that the Stay at Home slogan, which has been the core of public health messaging, was to be replaced by the far vaguer Stay Alert. Favoured journalists have better access to the British Government than the governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. What happened to all that about the UK being the most successful union of nations in the multiverse?

The British Government no longer makes even the most basic attempt to pretend there’s any truth in the “Scotland we love you, lead don’t leave, you’re an equal partner in a family of nations” nonsense that it used to woo people into voting No in 2014.

The new slogan is a mess. What’s crucial in terms of public health messaging during a crisis is that people receive clear and unambiguous information telling them what to do. The stay at home slogan did exactly that. The new slogan doesn’t provide any clear information about what is expected of the public.

You can’t stay alert to the threat of a virus that you cannot perceive, all the more so when it can be spread by people who are not displaying any symptoms of the resultant illness and who are feeling perfectly healthy. Since a clear Stay at Home message is now being replaced by something far vaguer, the public may now be left with the belief that they no longer have to stay at home. The danger is people will now feel emboldened about getting out of the house and getting on with normal pre-epidemic activities, just as long as they Stay Alert, whatever that means exactly.

This danger is compounded by the fact the UK now has the highest death toll from the virus in Europe. Per head of population, it’s possibly the highest in the world. We don’t really know, because the British Government has obfuscated the true extent of the number of deaths. As of last week, The Financial Times was estimating that as many as 54,000 people have died from the virus in the UK, a figure that’s considerably higher than the 32,000 the British Government admits to. The UK has barely begun to get the spread of the virus under control. This is no time for complacency or for loosening restrictions which are working.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Sir David Spiegelhalter, who is a respected statistician and a Professor of Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University, said the British Government’s daily briefings were embarrassing.

He remarked that we get told “lots of big numbers” which turn out to have very little basis in reality. He said the true number of people who have died is far more than the British Government is telling us. The British Government’s communications, this expert told us, are not trustworthy. What we get is a species of number theatre rather than any genuine attempt to inform the public. Speigelhalter ended his comments by wishing that the British Government would choose someone who understood the data to present information, and that it would treat the public with respect.

By Sunday, #BorisHasFailed was trending on social media. Which is a ridiculous and unfair thing to say about the Prime Minister. It implies that he’s even bothered trying in the first place. There are sloths in the Amazon rainforest that have reacted to approaching threats with considerably greater alacrity than this Prime Minister. We have a Prime Minister whose first instinct is to lie, cheat, and deceive.

Nicola Sturgeon has quite rightly announced that the Scottish Government is not going to adopt the new British Government slogan. The advice in Scotland and Wales remains to stay at home. Yet in this so-called union of equals, it’s Scotland and Wales that are being made out to be the awkward squad even thought it’s the British Government which is changing the public information without good reason.

Every misstep this woeful British Government makes in its disastrous handling of this crisis merely reinforces the belief among many that Scotland would do far better as an independent country. It beggars belief to assert that Scotland would do worse than a UK which is the worst-performing state in Europe when every other country of a similar size to Scotland has done so much better at protecting its citizens.

The problem for Scotland is that we are tied to the fnaugh fnaughing charlatan in Downing Street, and the nature of devolution means that the Scottish Government has limited options when it comes to diverging from the policies of Boris Johnson.

This problem is compounded by the fact we don’t have a truly Scottish media; the majority of the Scottish press is British nationalist in orientation and slavishly follows the editorial line of its English editions. When the Scottish Government does attempt to diverge significantly from the British Government, the British nationalist press in Scotland is far more interested in attacking the Scottish Government and Nicola Sturgeon for daring to challenge Boris Johnson than it is in what’s best for public health in Scotland.

The result is that many people in Scotland will feel validated in choices they make to defy the advice of the Scottish Government. We are learning the hard way that the ideology of British nationalist exceptionalism comes at a very high price. A price that we’re paying in human lives.