Voices: Nicola Sturgeon’s mask gaffe throws Boris Johnson a bone he doesn’t deserve

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Sturgeon’s cautious handling of Covid very probably saved lives (Getty Images)
Sturgeon’s cautious handling of Covid very probably saved lives (Getty Images)

What was Nicola Sturgeon thinking? As you may have heard by now, the Scottish first minister got caught sans mask in a barber shop, which at the time put her in violation of Scottish Covid law. It naturally got filmed so you know what happened next: tick… tick… boom.

Someone, probably a political opponent, called the plod and they were forced to have a word in her shell-like about the importance of complying with the laws written by her government. All this happened shortly before Scotland’s mask mandate was rescinded. Sturgeon’s government is still strongly advising people to wear them. But some of them will now not do so, reasoning that Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t seem to think it’s that important.

But that isn’t the biggest problem here. The biggest problem is that this affair throws Boris Johnson – who has had his own, far bigger problems with the flouting of the Covid restrictions his government imposed in England – a bone he doesn’t deserve. It is one that he and his principle-free friends will happily use.

On the one hand you have a criminal prime minister who oversaw the turning of Downing Street into lockdown party central, creating a graveyard of empty bottles and not a few careers in the process. On the other, you have a couple of seconds without a mask while a bloke was getting a shave.

Boris Johnson is a man who lives by the mantra “distract, deflect” every time he screws something up (which is often), and thinks rules are for the little people who didn’t go to Eton.

You can see that “distract, deflect” in action, courtesy of the hateful and staggeringly cruel plan to ship asylum seekers to Rwanda that has made even civil servants in the Home Office – where you have to have skin as thick as the Kevlar body armour SWAT teams on American cop shows wear – balk. It was conveniently announced just as Partygate was making its way back into the headlines.

Nicola Sturgeon is a politician who metaphorically tripped up and fell over with the cameras rolling. And who, instead of responding by, I don’t know, banning Bonfire Night or something similarly silly to distract, deflect, ’fessed up. Sort of (see below).

Not in the same ballpark? The two aren’t even in the same league. Except that, to parts of the public, specifically the parts that Johnson wants to court, they’re still the same sport. The rulers broke the rules.

Sturgeon’s mask gaffe thus presents a gift to the most shamelessly sycophantic Tory MPs, who’ve lately been making fools of themselves attempting to defend their leader’s indefensible conduct.

Michael Fabricant actually had the gall to suggest on the BBC that Johnson was like “many teachers and nurses who after a very long shift would go back to the staff room and have a quiet drink”. He provided no evidence of this. The comment made him look like what he is: a disgrace.

However, now there’s another senior politician, from a different party, who broke their own rules, it’s going to be a little easier for people like him. These, remember, are the sort of people who’d try to brush off a naked Johnson running down Whitehall screaming, “I’m the king of the world me!”, by suggesting teachers and nurses would do the same thing after a hard day. They too now have an undeserved bone.

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Then there’s Sturgeon’s apology. What she should have said was this: “This was an error. Masks are an important way to keep people safe so I’m sorry. I let you down. I won’t do it again.” But what she actually said was this: “I accept that not wearing a face covering even for a few seconds was an error on my part and I am sorry for that.” Can you see the problem? It’s the “even for a few seconds”. Translation: Give me a break, it was only for a mo. It’s no big deal.

Sturgeon’s cautious handling of Covid very probably saved lives. Whatever you think of the woman, that is to her great credit. She’s an altogether more serious and competent politician than the reprehensible prime minister. But sadly, there was a little Boris Johnson hiding in her apology. A little greased piglet squeaking in her words.

Those who would be rid of him need to be able to demonstrate to the electorate that they are better, that politicians are not “all the same” and that it is possible to find elected officials who don’t feel the need to embrace Johnson’s desperate cynicism and ugly tactics.

Sturgeon is nothing like him, but she dropped that ball here and that’s a pity. I hope she realises it. I hope Johnson’s other opponents also take note as the criminal prime minister continues to corrupt the politics of these islands.

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