Sacking Jason Leitch would be a mistake

Jason Leitch became a household name in the Covid pandemic after the resignation of Catherine Calderwood who served as the Chief Medical Officer, Calderwood had attended her second holiday home and got caught after creating a bunch of rules saying that basically – you should be staying at home. The Scottish Government decided to platform a host of other clinicians to try and reduce the risk of them all getting cancelled in succession.

Now I’m no covid or vaccine denier, I believe both are real and both had public health legacies that will last many years, rather the opposite is true in fact – I was a trialist for the Valneva vaccine. I strongly believed the solution was in vaccinating quickly and beating the virus that way. However I believed for a long time we had been captured in the country by excessive lockdowns and punitive measures that were never likely to succeed. 

In hindsight we know the virus was not as bad as initially feared, the restrictions imposed caused, on balance, more harm than expected, and the vaccines were never as good as dreamt. 

We have a motto around here “it’s never as bad as you feared and never as good as you hoped”. 

Now Catherine Calderwood committed the trivial crime of visiting a full other empty house, but she was eviscerated by the government opposition parties and the media. Did it matter she previously had rather (publicly) anonymously risen the ranks and become the CMO on the merit of her contributions? No. Out went Calderwood and all her experience for what now would be reflected on as “Oh really that was it?”. 

One thing that did go well from the unceremonious removal of Calderwood is that we got a whole host of new characters on our daily soap of covid. We’d tune in to the technically poor broadcast briefings of the First Minister and her panel of co-hosts.*

*A small fact we decided to over look, leaving your own home to visit a building to meet other people to brief on covid was perfectly fine, even though it could cripple the government as we seen in Westminster. Do remember Dear Reader – visiting your own empty house was a sackable offence. 

I didn’t take to the messaging of Catherine Calderwood, she was several levels of medical intelligence above the average person, spoke on that level, seemed convincing that the end was near and we’d best bunker down. Alas she did not believe the content she was proclaiming as with all her medical knowledge she knew it wasn’t terribly risky and act. 

One of the new characters was Jason Leitch, you will know him, but do you know why? Leitch was a pretty charismatic speaker and a very friendly upbeat sort of guy. He was the anthesis of Calderwood, he was warm, approachable, funny and informative. He spoke on the level of average Joe. 

Neither of these people sold fake versions of themselves as politicians are trained to do, instead I rather believe they are as they portrayed themselves. It was refreshing to be spoken to on the correct level and without the proclamations of doom and gloom. 

I didn’t agree with everything Jason Leitch would say, but I found him entertaining, and on the sort of programs and clips I was watching at the time. It’s hard to understate how hard it is to break into the general sphere of public awareness and he succeeded in that. 

Given that we have now concluded the covid pandemic we can understand this will have been recorded as a medical success. The NHS did not collapse, society has returned to cultural norms, most people have accepted the situation and moved on. Sadly, many people died but significantly less so than pandemics of the past in this country. 

We’ve now rolled into one of the topics I’m more passionate about – open and transparent government. Believe it or not, there is a lot better than just the Freedom Of Information Act and its outputs. There is even better than inquiries that steal juicy stuff. There are ways we can be even more open and transparent, where we can iterate and learn. 

Leitch was open, candid, honest and a true reflection of himself in his now public WhatsApp messages. I respect the man for that, highly. When the nation called, he answered and did it with the same process he clearly uses for everything else. His chat logs make him the sort of person that I’d enjoy feeling their energy, passion and banter. 

Calling some politicians thick is not a crime, nor should it be a sackable offence, offending the opposition and the media is basically impossible to avoid. Crybulling is now a national sport, while its still *checks notes* legal to offend, we cannot start cancelling people who are talented, committed, passionate and did a good job because they may have called us not nice names. 

Many people call me lots of names, I am not in the slightest bit offended. I enjoy my right to publish this sort of long form blog on topics that barely anyone reads – I enjoy further that people disagree with me and iterate to better. 

Would I advise Jason to play the ball and not the man, yes, however it’s hardly a cancellable offence. By all accounts (now public) he seemed to be the most approachable public health representative for the whole cabinet. He was fair in his disparagement of all parties including Nicola Sturgeon – daily winner of the podium ownership game. 

We already got it wrong cancelling Catherine Calderwood, why must we now attempt our level best to get it wrong with Jason Leitch? The pandemic has ended and we now need to look to the future – and he seems the sort of chap who’s enthusiastic about that. 

Let’s consider the lessons we did learn. We had no pandemic plan. I reckon we still have no pandemic plan or it would be published. If we published it – people would rightly poke holes in it, but that is good, that is the power of iterative thinking. That’s how we have a really good one next time. 

Likewise – what did we learn with the WhatsApp saga? Should people just be better at deleting messages or making sure snitches get bigger stitches? Or should we find a way to radically shift our governments data platforms so that a messaging platform that’s accessible for multi party responses is available and preferred? Should we not just have a bot recording the messages and holding them securely before publishing at date X in the future after the event? 

It’s commonly reported there is a shortage of people entering the teaching profession, in no small part to the meteoric rise in poor behaviour in schools, which you guessed it – was one of societal harms of locking people down and stunting social development. The other contributing factor is cry-bullying by agitators making those disrupters untouchable – go figure.

It turns out its not unique to kids though – as we’ve seen once you shift from having meetings in office buildings with clear codes of conduct and business hours – you get a shift of social working where people are more liberal with their discourse. I don’t particularly think in all instances it’s a bad thing. 

We need to have a chat about the need for a government data platform that gathers this information as a matter of course, and publishes it well in the future, after those individuals have left office. It teaches us much more than the condensed notes they send out pretending that was the discussion. 

Another startling thing is the amount of information thats kept as power and weaponry around government, the idea we can’t let people know or see things because they might just contribute and it may be better than your contribution is frankly mental. Is it genuinely beyond government to just host a Wikipedia internally and let people contribute and update live with all the changes tracking that it has built in by default? In 2024 are we really still sending attachments to each other by email on a “please ask” basis? Can we not just let people see the information they need to do their jobs? It’s all available later under freedom of information act requests anyway. 

So we wrap up, what we could learn; be prepared for the next time and publish it, commit to being more transparent and share more of this stuff, develop better tools to avoid a lot of the conversation being needed – and lastly and importantly stop cry-bullying and sacking people who are quite effective at their jobs. It would be a terrible outcome if the next move is to sack the guy who the public liked most because some cry-bullies are predictably and irrationally upset.