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Catherine Calderwood, say what you mean, nicola sturgeon

Say what you mean, mean what you say

Say what you mean.

Mean what you say.

We like that phrase so much it’s printed on our Pink Elephant mugs.

If only Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) had heeded that advice.

She’d still have been leading her country’s fight against coronavirus.

But today she’s out of a job.

For failing to follow her own public health instructions.

Read on.

A curious case

Catherine Calderwood, say what you mean, a curious case

Dr Catherine Calderwood had become a daily fixture on our screens.

Sharing a platform with Scotland’s First Minister.

Urging us:

“To help save lives, stay at home.”

A message she often re-iterated.

And a message that appeared on screen in her public information broadcasts.

But a tabloid paper snapped her in Fife.

An hour’s drive from her Edinburgh home.

Giving clear evidence she had ignored her own plea.

Compare and contrast

catherine calderwood, compare and contrast, say what you mean

Last week, I praised Professor Jason Leitch.

The National Clinical Director for the Scottish Government.

I described him as “the best interviewee I had ever seen”.

Unfortunately, Dr Calderwood has scored the most damaging ‘own goal’ in the UK’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

What makes it worse is the perception of entitlement.

That a government official can visit her second home while others go stir-crazy in their only home.

Having been told to stay there to save lives.

A moment of madness from a woman under pressure?

A calculated risk that appeared harmless at the time?

Impossible to work out the thinking.

But the consequence, once spotted, was inevitable.

How could Dr Calderwood be taken seriously again?

Especially if she was saying one thing, but doing another.

Counting the cost

say what you mean, nicola sturgeon, pink elephant, counting the cost

Another surprise was how the Scottish Government responded.

Initially, they said Dr Calderwood had practised social distancing.

Next, we heard the police had visited the CMO to issue an official warning about her conduct.

Then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon condemned the ‘mistake’.

She said she’d accepted her apology and the CMO would stay in post.

That part unfolded during a press conference.

It made for painful viewing.

Then the government said Dr Calderwood would continue to advise in the background.

Rather than the foreground.

And finally, Dr Calderwood announced her resignation.

That all happened in the 24 hours from first being told of the damning photographic evidence.

The First Minister has an unenviable task on her hand just now.

But her own credibility was being damaged by an angry public backlash.

And a swifter decision would have reduced the distraction from the biggest fight of her life.

Mean what you say

say what you mean, pink elephant mug, mean what you say

Say What You Mean.

Mean What You Say.

At Pink Elephant Communications, we believe in that whole-heartedly.

And we print the phrase on our mugs.

At every training session we run, a participant wins one to take home.

Frequently, it’s the saying that people remember from our courses.

And we could all do with bearing it in mind during these challenging times.


Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.

And watch our Pink Elephant vlog on communicating during the coronavirus right here.


Photos in Say what you mean blog by Scottish Government / CC BY-NC on
Say what you mean blog edited by Colin Stone.

6th April 2020 Featured in: Blog, Commentary By:

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