I am no fan of the First Minister. I don’t like her leadership style, all buttoned-up and verging on authoritarian. Nor do I agree with her political priority for Scotland to leave the UK. But I’m glad she has recovered from her bout of Covid.
Even with three vaccines, the virus can be full of nasty surprises, not least leaving people with long Covid. Estimates vary, but campaign group Long Covid Scotland says there are up to 150,000 people living with it, which suggests there are thousands in Edinburgh alone.
The condition has a range of debilitating symptoms, including extreme fatigue, heart palpitations and chronic joint pain. The Anne Rowling Clinic in Edinburgh University is currently doing research into the impact of long Covid on cognitive problems.
And there is growing evidence that it increases the chance of blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes or a pulmonary embolism. My son and niece both nearly died of blood clots and I wouldn’t wish that trauma on anyone.
In September 2021, the Scottish Government committed £10 million to help health boards support people with the illness, but the money has only now started to trickle out.
Last month, the Health Secretary announced an initial £3 million package, which doesn’t seem very much when divided among 14 regional health boards and other organisations.
So I am not surprised the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, is angry that the government has just announced a £20 million boost for an independence referendum next year – twice what they promised for long Covid and nearly seven times what they have spent to date.
“How does the First Minister sleep at night?” he asked during her first parliamentary appearance after her return to work.
I don’t have any quibble with Nicola Sturgeon continuing to campaign for a second referendum on whether we should split from the rest of the UK. After all, that is the point of her party, they are nationalists.
But her insistence that there will be a ballot next year is beginning to grate. There won’t be. No-one has the appetite for it.
And setting aside £20 million for the “delivery of a referendum on independence” while at the same time cutting funding to local councils by eight per cent in real terms, as her Finance Secretary Kate Forbes announced last week, is just trolling the country.
We have all felt the impact of Covid. Thousands died, businesses collapsed, children and young people suffered from school closures and college lockdowns. We need time to recover, to regain our energy and get the country back on an even keel before even thinking about another divisive referendum.
And the tens of thousands of Scots who are still suffering from the after-effects of the virus need a properly co-ordinated, coherent approach to managing – and hopefully curing – their illness.
Twenty million pounds would go a long way to establishing a network of long Covid clinics, as demanded by campaigners and clinicians alike. Instead, it will be wasted on partisan propaganda.