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Rule number one of crisis management: lead from the front. We’ve just seen an extraordinary example of what can happen when we don’t, with the shock resignation of Dr Catherine Calderwood as Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer.

It’s important to say, very clearly, that I’m not judging Dr Calderwood. This isn’t a political post. In fact, on a human level, I feel sympathy. She’s not the first person to make a fundamental error of judgement in life, and she won’t be the last.

Nevertheless, she put herself squarely in the firing line when we discovered that she twice travelled from her home in Edinburgh to her second home in Fife, more than an hour’s drive away. Not once. Twice.

She may not have placed anyone at risk of COVID-19 infection. But that’s not the problem. What Dr Calderwood immediately and irrevocably did was to put the entire message — the entire safety campaign — at risk.

Perhaps if she had been a smaller player, she’d have been chastised and then forgiven. But for weeks, Dr Calderwood has been the face of Scotland’s COVID-19 prevention campaign. She’s been appearing regularly on TV screens all over the country, telling us to stay home and save lives. There was no mention in there of ‘unless you want to check on your second home because you won’t have another chance to do it while this crisis lasts’.

So, sadly, Dr Calderwood made her own position untenable. You absolutely cannot ask people to behave one way, then do the exact opposite yourself. Not if you want your safety messages (or any messages for that matter) to be credible.

There’s no point in telling people to wear the correct PPE to work if you’re going to stroll across the site in shorts and sandals. There’s no use in telling people to reverse park only, if you drive in nose first. You’ve immediately forfeited all trust and respect. And the minute you do that, people stop listening.

So while I applaud the First Minister for her loyalty to a woman who has been nothing but exemplary in every other aspect of her career, I also applaud her clearly gut-wrenchingly difficult decision to accept Dr Calderwood’s resignation.

If the FM wants people to continue to listen to —and abide by — the most important safety message anyone has ever had to deliver in our time, she cannot have that message fronted by someone who has forfeited their right to be heard.


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