Manchester travel ban: Why Nicola Sturgeon and Andy Burnham should be allies not enemies – Ian Swanson

The row between Andy Burnham and Nicola Sturgeon over the Scottish Government's ban on travel to and from Manchester and Salford has been given a new boost by the latest Covid statistics.
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They show Scotland has the highest infection rate in the UK, with an average of one in 220 people testing positive for the virus – twice the rate for England – and several places north of the border have figures close to or even higher than those singled out by the First Minister as no-go areas.

But so far there has been little sign of any move to lift the ban or resolve the argument between these two prominent and popular political figures who should be allies rather than enemies.

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Mr Burnham has made his name as the outspoken Mayor of Greater Manchester, fighting for his region and making sure it is not forgotten by the powers-that-be in London.

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Nicola Sturgeon's fight with Andy Burnham over Manchester travel ban was odd. He...

Ms Sturgeon has won plaudits for her handling of the pandemic and is recognised as one of the most effective politicians in the whole of the UK. Both have shown their readiness to take on Boris Johnson when necessary.

So why do they find themselves at loggerheads?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, left, has crossed swords with Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, right.First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, left, has crossed swords with Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, right.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, left, has crossed swords with Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, right.

Ms Sturgeon, well-known for her caution over Covid, imposed the travel ban a week ago in a bid to prevent cases of the Delta variant being imported to Scotland, but there was no prior contact with Mr Burnham or his office to warn of the move, far less consult over it.

He labelled the ban "hypocritical and disproportionate", demanded compensation for those affected and reminded Ms Sturgeon that lack of communication and consultation was exactly what they both got angry about when the UK Government ignored them.

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Ms Sturgeon stuck to her guns and made things worse by accusing Mr Burnham of starting the row to boost his chances of becoming Labour leader.

Even Health Secretary Humza Yousaf acknowledged at the weekend Mr Burnham’s criticism of the lack of advance information was "not unreasonable".

But the row has continued. After the latest figures were released Mr Burnham tweeted: “Scotland is now the UK's Covid hotspot... It’s also clear that parts of Scotland have similar or higher case rates than Manchester & Salford.”

Figures show Manchester at 377 cases per 100,000 and Salford at 333, compared with Edinburgh at 336 and East Lothian at 391.

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Bolton – another of Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs – which was originally one the UK’s worst-hit towns with the Delta variant now has a Covid rate of 251 per 100,000 yet it is still on the travel ban list.

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Burnham are obviously in different parties, but they have genuine shared interests as the leaders of two strongly performing parts of the UK eager for more autonomy – and the two places have more in common than you may think.

Indeed, just after the 2015 general election which saw the SNP win a post-referendum landslide and the Tories get a majority at Westminster, a Manchester Evening News poll found 72 per cent of Mancunians wanted Manchester to split from England and be part of an independent Scotland.

That may be fanciful, but it underlines the fact these two politicians should be seeing past this unnecessary spat, settling their differences and seeking co-operation rather than conflict.

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