95.The coronavirus pandemic has inflicted a devastating blow to Scotland, the United Kingdom, and across the world. 2,490 people in Scotland have lost their lives (as of 16 July 2020). In parallel, the pandemic has had a substantial impact on the economy. The four Governments of the UK must work together to engage the right policies, to manage this pandemic in the most effective ways they can.
96.Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on the management of devolution. In March, we observed a decision to take a four-nations approach to co-ordinate Government reactions to the pandemic. The publication of the four-nations Action Plan set out the four Governments roadmap for achieving consensus between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It provided information on how the pandemic could be managed across borders, in a co-ordinated way, whilst respecting the devolved nature of policy making in key areas such as health. This was a way in which the four-nations could work together to tackle the life-threatening COVID-19 pandemic.
97.Whilst early intentions looked promising, it soon became apparent that the standard mechanism for co-ordinating intergovernmental relations, the Joint Ministerial Committee, was not being engaged. Instead we saw the rise of Ministerial Implementation Groups (MIGs) and the Civil Contingencies Committee (COBRA), but eventually, even these mechanisms were replaced with alternative committees. We have seen different policies being chosen in different parts of the UK, with divergent messages causing confusion amongst the public. However, we were reassured, such decisions were based on sound scientific advice.
98.Looking to the future, two new Cabinet Committees and the Joint Biosecurity Centre are being proposed as the way forward in managing the pandemic. But it is not clear to what extent these new structures will provide for effective intergovernmental working. It is unclear whether Scottish institutions, including Members of the Scottish Government, will have a seat at the table.
99.The long-term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the relationship between the UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Government are yet to be seen. The four-nations approach remains a novel idea. We will continue to observe intergovernmental developments, whilst continuing to press for effective intergovernmental structures.
Published: 23 July 2020