Ann Widdicombe was trending on Twitter yesterday. She’s one of those people whose name you see trending on Twitter, and when you take a look there’s a mild feeling of disappointment when you discover that she’s not dead. Was that a cruel and heartless thing to say? Why yes, yes it was. But then Ann Widdicombe has made a living out of cruelty and heartlessness for her entire political career, so it counts as fair comment. Ann Widdicombe is not dead. She was just saying something dumb, cruel, stupid, and grossly offensive – again.
Ann opined the other day that the coronavirus epidemic will turn out to be not such a big deal after all, like, ahem, the AIDS epidemic. She did actually make that comparison in a column in the Express newspaper. Well, I say ‘newspaper’. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the Express and an English language version of the Völkischer Beobachter. Only with RANDOMLY capitalised headlines and listicles.
The woman who once advocated chaining up female prisoners who were actually giving birth said that we need a sense of proportion in dealing with this crisis, because it’s leading to “the financial markets going into meltdown, aeroplanes being grounded, and shops shutting their doors”. In other words, what she’s really worried about is the potential effect upon the economy, not the effect upon human lives.
In her column, Ann said that the coronavirus will turn out to be like AIDS in that it will “not be as devastating as feared”. You know, that AIDS epidemic that has killed 32 million people. But then the majority of people who died when they developed an immune disorder after contracting an HIV infection were gay, or black, or poor, or drug users. They weren’t people like Ann, so they don’t really count. The poor and members of marginalised communities are invisible to comfortably off conservatives.
A former lover of mine died of AIDS in the 80s. Like many he was treated like a pariah, and subjected to hate and rejection because callous Conservative politicians like Ann who couldn’t even find the word compassion in a dictionary were encouraging and empowering those who were demonising people with HIV in particular and members of the gay community in general. So spare me the sanctimony Ann. You’re the last person who would realise how devastating AIDS was, and the last to take any responsibility for it even if you did.
Meanwhile other Conservative commentators are spending their time attacking those who question or criticise the strategy of Boris Johnson’s government in dealing with the epidemic. Despite the fact that the UK is adopting tactics for dealing with this crisis which no other country is adopting, the UK is right, Johnny Foreigner is wrong, and you’re not merely unpatriotic for questioning the Tories, you’re also a danger to national security.
In the Telegraph today, there’s an editorial entitled “Those questioning the government’s coronavirus strategy are not merely wrong, they’re a danger to the rest of us.” Thankfully the article is self-isolated behind a paywall. However it appears on the face of the headline to be arguing that those of us who are not willing to wilfully spread this infection more quickly are a danger to the rest of the population. Oh. Kay. Tories are all in favour of free speech, unless it’s the public criticising their rule. They are a bawhair away from calling us traitors. I have yet to hear Toby Champion of Free Speech Young condemning this by the way. But then Toby’s another right wing Tory.
There’s every reason to want to question the UK’s government’s strategy. As we all know, no other government anywhere in the world is adopting the UK’s model of so-called herd immunity. We are told that the UK government is following scientific opinion, but it’s legitimate to ask why the scientific opinion that the UK government is listening to differs so much from the equally scientific opinion being listened to by governments elsewhere in Europe.
There are other serious questions to be asked, such as for example is it effective to seek herd immunity when we don’t know how long a natural immunity to the virus will last? We’re told that the purpose of the government’s strategy is to avoid a renewed outbreak once any restrictions on movement are lifted. However we don’t know what the likelihood is of the virus mutating into a slightly different strain against which existing antibodies will have no effect – such as is the case with the flu. This virus may behave more like the flu than say, chickenpox or measles. If it is the plan to allow a natural immunity to spread amongst the population, then why are more stringent steps not being taken to isolate those groups within the population which seem to suffer a higher mortality rate while simultaneously pursuing a strategy of herd immunity amongst those population groups with a far lower mortality risk?
The reaction of the Conservative media is an indicator of what would happen should the Scottish government pursue a radically different strategy in dealing with the epidemic from the British government. There are limits to what the Scottish government can do, because it does not possess the full powers that Boris Johnson does. So for example it’s harder for the Scottish Government to advise people not to go into work because while sick pay is devolved, Holyrood doesn’t have control over all the compensatory measures for businesses or workers who would be affected and lacks the ability to borrow or to raise funds in order to provide compensation in the same way that Westminster does. It doesn’t have the powers to authorise a full public lock down in the Italian fashion. The problem is that even comparatively minor divergences from UK government policy would see Holyrood accused of undermining the British government, of being a public danger, of scaremongering, and of trying to use the epidemic to leverage support for independence.
This doesn’t mean that Holyrood shouldn’t diverge from the UK government in those policy areas where it can and where the scientific evidence suggests it should, but any such divergence would need to be carefully and fully explained to the public. Full justification would need to be given. The evidential basis would need to be fully detailed. Unlike other governments, the Scottish government needs to justify why it’s following a different strategy from the UK government. Ireland or Germany don’t have that problem. The risk would be that a Scotland specific policy would be rubbished and traduced by a UK Conservative press which still has considerable traction in Scotland, and that would reduce and undermine the policy’s potential effectiveness. Within the UK Scotland is not merely constrained by the limited powers allowed to Holyrood by the devolution settlement, we are also being held hostage to the prejudices of the Conservative right and the British nationalist media.
There are certain anti-independence commentators famous for their SNPbaddery who are telling us that this epidemic makes independence less likely as it removes it from the top of the political agenda. They’re wrong. All of us are looking at the way in which the British government is handling this crisis, and once the immediacy of this crisis has passed, there will be a political reckoning. When we follow the evidence the only political lesson from coronavirus is that it’s literally a matter of life and death for Scotland to have governments which can be held to account. There’s only one way for Scotland to achieve that, independence.
You can help to support this blog with a Paypal donation. Please log into Paypal.com and send a payment to the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Or alternatively click the donate button. If you don’t have a Paypal account, just select “donate with card” after clicking the button.
If you have trouble using the button, or you prefer not to use Paypal, you can donate or purchase a t-shirt or map by making a payment directly into my bank account, or by sending a cheque or postal order. If you’d like to donate by one of these methods, please email me at email@example.com and I will send the necessary information.
Please also use this email address if you would like the dug and me to come along to your local group for a talk.
Gaelic maps of Scotland are available for £15 each, plus £7 P&P within the UK for up to three maps. T-shirts are £12 each, and are available in small, medium, large, XL and XXL sizes. P&P is £5 for up to three t-shirts. My books, the Collected Yaps Vols 1 to 4 are available for £11 each. P&P is £4 for up to two books. Payment can be made via Paypal.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
You can order the book directly from the publisher. Ordering directly means that postage is free. You can order here –
You can also order a book directly from me. The book costs £11.95 and P&P is an additional £3.50, making a total of £15.45. To order just make a Paypal payment to firstname.lastname@example.org, or alternatively use the DONATE button below. Please make sure to give me your postal address when ordering. Orders to be sent outwith the UK will incur extra postage costs, please email me for details. If you can’t use Paypal, or prefer an alternative payment method, please email email@example.com