At 8:36pm on January 2nd, Professor Linda Bauld tweeted:
Abdication of responsibility at UK level during the most recent weeks of this crisis. Devolved nations cannot adequately protect their populations. Borders & limited powers are the main constraints. Decisions (or lack of) in England affect all of the UK – really worried.
Within seconds, angry rebuttals appeared accusing her of being ridiculous, unscientific, non-academic, playing politics, and a member of the ‘Sturgeon fan club’. After two hours, there were 64 accusations including, most offensive for her, that she was making these comments in the hope of getting funding for her research. Months earlier Professor Devi Sridhar had received similar attacks but from more establishment sources. 1 600 had liked Bauld’s tweet and 684 had retweeted it. A handful defended her against the comments of accusers.
Bauld’s comments had been prompted by those of English professor Christian Pagel at 7:30pm
This is what is it like to be abandoned by the state. The cabinet is not worthy of the name, abdicating their responsibility for leadership, honesty and difficult decisions just when it is needed most. I find it hard to forgive.
Unlike Bauld, Pagel received few accusations of being inappropriately political and many supported her attack on the UK Cabinet.
In July and August, another Edinburgh professor of public health, Devi Sridhar, had experienced similar social media attacks to those of Professor Bauld, last night. On that occasion, Sridhar felt obliged to block one of the worst trolls, Murdo Fraser MSP.
In July, Sridhar had infuriated Unionists by writing in the New York Times:
For now, Scotland’s approach has made it a bright spot in coronavirus-ravaged Britain. New cases have dwindled to a handful a day, and deaths to a trickle. If Scotland maintains this progress — a big if, given its open border — it could stamp out the epidemic by the fall, public health experts say. Such a goal seems fanciful in England, which is still reporting hundreds of new cases and dozens of deaths every day.
It seems to me that Sridhar is now wary of saying too much in favour of Scotland’s handling of the pandemic.
Bauld had seemed careful too, until last night’s comments.
More careful, even than the two professors, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has avoided any suggestion of the slightest satisfaction in Scotland’s relative success in managing the virus. Despite the infection and death levels, over the pandemic, being 50% and 30% higher in England, she has refused to be drawn into comparisons. Perhaps due to this apparent passivity, numerous male accusers, from Macwhirter to Marr and the former academic, Pennington, have lined up to use, at best selective data to suggest that she is all presentation and no substance. The idea has been repeated so often that it has stuck in the minds of even more reasonable or otherwise objective commentators at the Guardian and Channel 4 News.
In a similar light, the media treatment of Scotland’s last two women health secretaries has been unremittingly harsh and personal with both seemingly forced out of office.
Looking back at the response to the English academic Pagel, and the apparent reluctance of English and Welsh journalists to go for the PM or the FM of Wales or for their health secretaries, all four men, who are now responsible for horrific levels of infection and death, it’s hard not to conclude that in Scotland, prominent women commentators and leaders are subject to ‘special treatment.’