Why the SNP, not students, are to blame for latest Covid mess – Ian Murray MP

It’s not students who are to blame for the spike in coronavirus cases. SNP Ministers responded too late, writes Ian Murray MP.

By Ian Murray
Thursday, 1st October 2020, 7:00 am
Edinburgh University's Old College building (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
Edinburgh University's Old College building (Picture: Ian Georgeson)

ONE of the best things about being MP for Edinburgh South is representing students at our city’s world-leading universities.

They contribute so much to our local economy and make Edinburgh the best place to live in the country.

I fondly recall my own time at Edinburgh University and the excitement of freshers’ week.

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22/11/2019. Scottish Labour's Ian Murray out and about campaigning on Grange Loan, Edinburgh.

But this year’s freshers have faced an experience like no other. I salute each and every one for their resilience and determination amid so much disruption to their learning experience and their life here in Edinburgh. Covid-19 has caused them so much hardship – academically, emotionally, and financially.

As coronavirus cases spike once again, I want to be clear: the students are not to blame. The SNP Government is to blame. And the buck stops with the First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers have presided over a complete shambles that has punished an entire generation of youngsters.

Remember, those turning up for their first year in Edinburgh right now are largely the same group of students who endured the Higher results fiasco.

The SNP oversaw a system that punished young people from the poorest backgrounds, initially denying many their place at university, before being forced into a screeching U-turn by opposition parties.

The First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney ignored all the warnings beforehand and only acted when shamed into doing so.

As the dust settled on that debacle, experts repeatedly warned that the next problem on the horizon would be the start of the university term.

And guess what? The SNP government ignored those warnings as well.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University, said modelling showed that potential campus outbreaks were “inevitable”. He sits on the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 advisory committee. Yet when asked at what point he had seen the modelling, SNP Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead said he had not seen it.

What a dereliction of duty and what an insult to an entire generation of young people.

The SNP’s failure to prepare for the start of the university term led to the extraordinary confusion it created last week, with conflicting and changing advice issued to students. So let’s put an end to the nonsense claims that the Scottish Government’s communication has been exemplary during this crisis. Last week’s shambles would have made even Boris Johnson blush.

Edinburgh’s universities and students have been caught up in a totally avoidable crisis, and they are now facing some of the harshest restrictions through no fault of their own.

These are young people, often away from home for the first time.

Some have travelled from abroad, such as American Reese Chamberlain, who paid as much as £30,000 for the experience of learning in our great city, and told the BBC he is now being forced to call security begging for food. As well as financial worries, others are now struggling with mental health concerns, and urgent support needs to be put in place.

It will take a lot of hard work for the SNP Government to regain the public’s trust. But that starts with full transparency, including releasing the details of all discussions and evidence in development of the government’s guidance.

Those who are responsible for this crisis must be held to account.

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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