Why now is not the time for the Chief Medical Officer to Resign

So, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood, has been photographed not staying at home, having made the one-hour journey to her second home in Fife to check on her property, before returning to her main residence in Edinburgh. And, within minutes of the information being in the public, politicians, the media and the population alike have rushed to call for her resignation.

“Do as you say.” They bay.

“Stay at home, you told us. And by not staying at home yourself, we don’t think you are fit to continue to tell us what we should do.” They sneer.

What kind of rank hypocrisy is this?

Willie Rennie regrets that she should lose her job over this.

That’s the same Willie Rennie who was present in parliament just three days earlier to debate the emergency powers, having traveled to work and not, as she suggested, stayed at home even though, arguably, he could ably do his job from there. Clearly his job is more important than the Chief Medical Officer’s job at the time of this pandemic. His BSc in Biology trumps her medical qualifications, I gather.

Or Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson, Monica Lennon, who has called her actions “hypocritical”.  Right enough, Monica’s degree in environmental planning will come in right handy to the government just now.’s

The media are also jumping on the bandwagon, smelling blood and the possibility of a witch hunt which they can lead. The pen may be mightier than the sword but now is the time to knock over the ink and leave the recriminations to further down the line.

As any good crisis manager will know, you need the best people around you at a time of crisis. And the best people are those who know what they are doing.

Has Catherine Calderwood’s credibility as a “spokesperson” been dented as a result of her actions? Yes, of course it has. But that does not mean she should step down as Chief Medical Officer. There is no evidence at all that she has endangered anyone as a result of her actions. No evidence at all. Moreover, she is eminently qualified to lead Scotland’s medical response to this crisis. She is, at this point in time, the person on the Scottish Government’s team with the most knowledge on this virus and its impact. She is uniquely placed and a key part of a crisis response team that are working around the clock on this. Why on earth would we commit such an act of self harm to take her out of the team because the “optics” aren’t good. This isn’t a TV show, this is real life.

Her “credibility” is not, as some are mistakenly claiming, to do with whether she’s suitable to deliver frequent messaging on television, but as a doctor. An incredibly qualified doctor at that. Like the equally qualified Jason Leitch said to Piers Morgan, when his knowledge on the subject matter was questioned: “I’m not sure where your masters in public health came from, Piers, but public health is not as straight forward.”

There are plenty of politicians who are more than capable than of taking over the role of spokesperson, and doing it well, during this time. Let them stand up and deliver the message. But, for goodness sake, don’t boot out someone we need because it makes you feel righteous.

It’s time we accept that there may be others who have more knowledge than us and that their expertise will potentially save our lives and many of the lives of those we love over the coming weeks.

It’s time Britain (and Scotland) looked to itself and asked itself what it values more:

It’s long term health. And saving lives.

Or being proved temporarily “right”. And smug.

Because that’s the choice you are asking the government to make if you call for Catherine Calderwood’s resignation.


Tricia Fox is the founder of Volpa and a crisis communications expert.

Read her full biography here.