WHAT started as a good week in the battle against coronavirus in Scotland has ended with very encouraging news. For the second day in a row Scotland’s positive testing rate has been below 5%, which according to the World Health Organisation indicates that the pandemic is under control. The all important R number at which the virus is reproducing is now between 0.7 and 0.9. Despite these developments there can be no let-up or complacency. Hundreds of new infections continue to be detected and 61 further deaths have been recorded from Covid-19 over the last 24 hours, a tragedy for every victim, their friends and family.

After a fourth consecutive day of record-breaking vaccinations in Scotland, 742,512 people have received a first dose of the vaccine – an increase of 48,165 from the day before. A remarkable 99% of older care home residents have now been vaccinated with their first dose, as have more than 92% of those over 80. Vaccination teams around the country are now focusing on 70 to 79-year-olds, people who are clinically vulnerable and beginning on the over-65s.

From visiting vaccination teams to GP surgeries and mass vaccination centres including military personnel, we can be grateful as a society for the dedication involved in the vaccination offensive which complements the commitment from all NHS staff in dealing with the extraordinary challenge from Covid-19. The contrast with the petty pandemic propaganda of the UK Government against Scotland’s coronavirus campaign is stark.

Boris Johnson was so keen to come to Scotland that he ignored travel advice and visited a vaccine lab despite warnings about its recent coronavirus outbreak. No sooner had he had his photo taken pretending to do something helpful, he was back down to Downing Street at the end of his day trip.

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Johnson’s crude attempts to politicise the vaccine roll-out were followed by a cack-handed intervention by his colleague Michael Gove. He popped up on BBC Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland to question Scottish vaccination efforts, and in a manufactured oily gesture offered the munificent support of the UK Government. Gove’s transparent shallow attempts to mislead and politicise the issue were exposed when he repeatedly couldn’t answer the simple question of how many care home residents in England had been vaccinated.

Which bright spark in the Downing Street Union Unit thought it was a good idea for a senior UK Government minister to go on a public offensive criticising Scottish vaccination rates, when they are worse down south? It took until yesterday to get to the bottom of the false comparisons when Alex Thomson of Channel 4 revealed that when Scotland had reached 98% rate at care homes while it was 80% in England.

Faced with repeated findings that show First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government are significantly more trusted on handling the pandemic than Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the UK Government, Whitehall has now decided to play dirty. According to the latest favourability ratings from YouGov in Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are in positive territory while both the Tories and Boris Johnson are far behind in the red. What has Downing Street done in reaction to their continuing appalling ratings? They sacked the only Scottish member of their Union Unit.

According to the Financial Times: “A furious dispute inside Downing Street over the UK Government’s strategy to counter growing calls for Scottish independence has resulted in the departure of Boris Johnson’s chief adviser on the Union. Government officials confirmed Luke Graham, the former MP for Ochil and South Perthshire from 2017 to 2019, was quitting the post and that Oliver Lewis, a key Tory figure in last year’s Brexit trade negotiations, would be leading what one of the officials said would be a ‘beefed-up Union Unit’.”

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This is the fifth incarnation of the Downing Street Union Unit since its inception just 16 months ago. Created in October 2019 “to strengthen the Union and Scotland’s place in the UK” its lack of success led to “a new Cabinet group has been set up to promote Boris Johnson’s agenda and devise policies that will enhance the UK Government’s standing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”. By October last year “Michael Gove has ordered the creation of a unit to fight Scottish independence as concern grows that the Government is failing to defend the Union” only to be overtaken in November by Boris Johnson was said to have taken charge of the “Union task force to boost the social and cultural case for the UK”.

The UK Government’s approach to Scotland is now being led by Vote Leave campaigners who won the Brexit referendum south of the Border with lies and fake news. We can expect more of that in the months ahead, however if Downing Street thinks they are doing a service to the case for the Union by mendaciously weaponising the coronavirus pandemic they are kidding themselves.