Why trust or confidence matters in ensuring compliance:
We know that trust or confidence in a government’s decision making has been critical in ensuring compliance in measures aimed at suppressing the virus.
By June, the Nuffield Foundation found a disturbing and significant increase in concern about misleading information from the UK Government. They did not look at any of the devolved governments.
In October, a study of 51 000 UK adults found that confidence in government to tackle the pandemic was the only significant factor in compliance. There was little evidence that mental health, worries about the future, social isolation and loneliness made a difference. There was no devolved nations breakdown of the results.
One study looked specifically at Scotland. Published in the BMJ in July, with the positive testing figure then at 0.5% and new cases in single figures, it suggested:
A third component of Scotland’s approach is a high degree of trust in government and in the leadership of the first minister Nicola Sturgeon to manage covid-19 effectively.
This conclusion had been based on a University of Edinburgh survey of 12 000, in May, finding that: 62 per cent had confidence in Holyrood’s ability to prevent a second wave of the virus but: a majority of respondents in both Scotland and England – 62 per cent and 68 per cent respectively – lacked confidence in the UK Government’s ability to prevent a second wave of Covid-19.
Also in May, a YouGov poll in the Times, reported: 85 per cent of SNP voters, 84 per cent of Liberal Democrats and 70 per cent of both Conservative and Labour supporters are happy with the approach taken by the Scottish government. Just 19 per cent said the virus was being handled badly in Edinburgh.
The only major study comparing confidence and compliance, published in the Lancet in August was clear. Confidence in the UK Government decreased significantly after the Cummings incident and confused messaging, but did not do so in the devolved areas and that these failures by the UK Government led to: a decrease in people’s willingness to follow rules and guidelines.
Today, the consequences are clear. The daily new infection rate in England is twice that in Scotland. Over the period of the pandemic rate, the death rate in England has been 40% higher.
As we experience a second semi-lockdown, confidence in government is more critical. The more ‘stubbornly high’ infection levels in some areas of Scotland suggest a reduction in compliance from the first lockdown.
What can be done to make sure those not complying fully understand the measures being taken and see that they are not being punished unfairly? Clear, consistent, messaging must be a major part of the response. Where does that messaging come into homes from?
The Role of the State Broadcaster:
Research from Birmingham University in May, contrasted the behaviour of RTE in Ireland with that of the BBC and found that the former worked to help the population understand and to act in ways to collectively fight the pandemic. In sharp contrast, the BBC in the UK neglected its educational remit and had: a focus just on holding others to account combined with human-interest stories.
That last reference to human interest stories brings us neatly to BBC Scotland and to Sarah Smith.
The Smith Effect:
So, last night:
After headlining the BBC News at 10, the latest developments from Scotland were to be explained further by their Scotland editor Sarah Smith. Readers will remember Smith’s previous revelations of her jaundiced views, having to apologise for suggesting the First Minister was: enjoying setting her own lockdown rules.
You see there, Smith enjoys, can only, politicise any event.
Smith immediately interviews a sequence of small shop-owners who , in Glasgow, will have to close under the new Level 4 measures there, aimed at reducing infection levels and saving lives, mind you , and lets them moan about it and imply a lack of fairness in government actions.
Smith never attempts to engage these folk with the public health evidence and find out how they understand or do not understand that. It’s as the Birmingham University research revealed: a focus just on holding others to account combined with human-interest stories
Then we’re on to a simple factual description of what the levels mean before the First Minister is allowed a few lines to explain the rationale in terms of protecting the NHS and perhaps enabling a more normal Christmas but, before those key messages can settle, an excited Richard Leonard gets time to cast doubt on the competence and fairness of the measures, representing them as somehow discriminatory and punitive.
Back to the unhappy shopkeepers and to finish that section of her report, a smiling Smith enjoys a barber telling us its: Total rubbish. Rubbish!
Finally, in the studio, and Hew, clearly primed by a smug Smith, reminds us that the pandemic is: at the root of recent debate about devolution. Smith enjoys chatting about party politics and the PM before finishing off by reminding viewers that the PM didn’t mean that devolution itself is a disaster but that the SNP Government is a disaster.
There is of course no mention of the lower infection and death rates achieved by that disastrous SNP Government.
So, once again, no educational content of the kind contained within the research I began this with, just human interest stories chosen to unsettle and undermine confidence with inevitable consequences for compliance and then back to Smith’s comfort zone, the constitution and the sounds from the Westminster bubble.
To quote the Glasgow barber:
Total rubbish. Rubbish!