I find myself wondering how Catherine Calderwood is feeling this Monday morning. She went to bed on Saturday night a highly regarded chief medical officer of Scotland with a central role in steering Scotland through the Covid-19 pandemic. By Sunday night she had had resigned, was disgraced (not, I fear, too strong a word). I can’t imagine that she slept much last night, and her breakfast will be tasteless even if she can eat it.
Calderwood didn’t kill, lie, plot, or betray. (Well, perhaps she did betray.) She did something that in normal times would be an utterly harmless blessing: she spent two weekends in her second home in Fife. But these are not normal times. We are in the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic, and the advice of Calderwood and the government is to stay home and not make any non-essential journeys. Calderwood has said this repeatedly on television and the radio.
To her credit, when her journey was reported in the Scottish media, she did not attempt to lie or makes excuses. She may well have had strong reasons for making those journeys; perhaps adolescent children were becoming uncontainable, a husband was becoming abusive, or with her head teeming and high anxiety levels she needed the peace of Fife so badly that she took the risk of travelling. I’ve no idea, but no excuse would have been adequate.
The first duty of a leader is to “walk the talk.” There can be no respect for the tycoon who calls for increased cost consciousness and flies his private jet to St Tropez, the preacher who advocates family values and is found in bed with a prostitute, the politician strong on law and order found guilty of embezzlement. The credibility of such leaders is gone in an instant. Why should anybody believe or follow a chief medical offer who goes against her own ardently expressed advice?
Although I have much admired Calderwood’s campaign on “realistic medicine,” the minute I heard the news I knew that she must resign. She must have known that as well, and the story is that she at once offered her resignation to Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland. Sturgeon, who has described her as a “transformational chief medical officer,” urged her to stay. This was surely a misjudgement, and the proposal that she stay but not appear in any media briefings was clearly never going to work. By the evening she had resigned.
We all do silly and stupid things. Usually we don’t pay much of a price or any price at all. Calderwood has paid a heavy price. Although it’s an unsuitable image in that Calderwood was no tyrant, I can’t get out of my head the picture of Sadam Hussein’s statue being torn down. I wish Calderwood well and hope that she will recover, find a route to grace from disgrace, and be able to eat her lunch and soon sleep through the whole night.