Sorry if you’ve been expecting a dugcast today. The National’s offices have gone into lockdown and only regular staff are allowed in the building. We’re looking at a way of recording the dugcast remotely, and fingers crossed we’ll have a solution in place by next week. We’re very keen to keep the dugcast going over this crisis, all the more so because it’s been nominated for a Scottish Press Award. Although probably the glittering awards ceremony will be postponed for the duration, meaning the dug will miss out on the opportunity to wear his formal evening dress dog collar.
But back to the shitshow that is the British state. Miss Hitler was trending on social media on Thursday, and my first thought was “God, what has Priti Patel done now?” However it turned out that the hashtag was because of a court case which saw the conviction of a right wing extremist on charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation, although that is also a reasonable description of Priti Patel and the Conservative government.
What we are seeing during this crisis is sacrifice and compassion from ordinary people, like the shopkeepers in Stenhousemuir who made up coronavirus kits to hand out for free to local people, the people who are looking after their neighbours and relatives, the way in which the public are adopting social distancing measures well ahead of official advice.
On the other hand there’s the greed and self interest on the part of the rich and the powerful. Richard Branson has demanded that the public purse bails out the airline companies to the tune of £7.5 billion, while laying off thousands of Virgin Airways staff on no pay for the next eight weeks. Richard could pay every single one of those staff members £500 a week for the duration of the layoff out of his own pocket and he’d still have a personal fortune of considerably more than £4 billion. Sell your private island, Branson. Hedge fund companies are raking in millions from shorting stocks as the stock markets crash. Tim Martin, the Brextremist owner of the Wetherspoon pub chain has said that pubs shouldn’t be shut and insisted that the Brexit transition period must not be extended. There has hardly been any transmission of the virus within pubs, said Tim, who’s now an expert in epidemiology all of a sudden. And in a way that’s highly convenient for his financial interests too, who’d have thought it.
But the biggest contrast is in the way this crisis is being handled by Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson. During the First Minister’s press briefings she exudes calm, confidence, and reassurance, she talks with clarity and focus. Boris Johnson bumbles, fumbles, stumbles, and fnaugh fnaughs his way through his press briefings, looking uncomfortable and out of his depth. He has appreciably aged as the magnitude of this crisis has dawned on him as he stands there, ignoring all the advice of the World Health Organisation because it goes against the grain of his burning desire to be the jolly good times Prime Minister that everyone loves. He’s a haunted and hollow figure, trying to fill the grasping vacuum of his soul with a tasteless quip about ventilators. The UK doesn’t need to follow the same advice that other countries are following, because we’re special, we’re British, we’re not like Johnny Foreigner. Because reasons. The inaction and confusion of this government is going to cost lives.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was all meant to be a bit of a lark, he’d tell a few jokes and lie his way through Brexit, basking in the adulation of the Tim Martins of this world. And now here he is, watching #BorisTheButcher trend on social media as he takes his girlfriend’s laptop and spills red wine on her sofa. He tells us that we’ll get over this in twelve weeks, but those are merely the empty words of an empty man, not a prediction grounded in any reality. You can’t bluff and lie your way out of a viral epidemic.
There are serious questions about the British government’s strategy. Today in her press conference Nicola Sturgeon again went further than the UK government, calling on people not to go to pubs, not to socialise, not to act as though things were normal. She announced an increase in testing for the virus. While the British government tries to employ its nudge theory to change public behaviour, she’s trying to nudge the British government into taking stronger action. She’s walking a tightrope, risking the cries of the right wing British nationalist press that she’s undermining the British government. It’s the perfect illustration of how Scotland remains constrained by the British state and desperately needs the ability to make its own choices and decisions. But that’s a lesson which can only be highlighted after this crisis is over. Meanwhile we’re stuck with the tousle haired bumbler in Number 10, exuding all the confidence of a vertigo sufferer on a precipice.
Compare and contrast, Nicola Sturgeon has announced the suspension of the independence campaign for the duration of the crisis. There have been the predictable howls of outrage from the indy ultras crying betrayal, but there is no realistic way in which we can successfully campaign for independence while people have issues of life and death and disease occupying their minds and all public activities are suspended. Meanwhile Boris Johnson has asserted that there will be no delays to Brexit, despite the suspension of trade deal negotiations. Michel Barnier has confirmed that he has the virus, while the UK’s chief negotiator is in self-isolation. The timetable for negotiating a trade deal was already alarmingly short, there’s now no possible way that a deal can be struck in time. Johnson is determined to press ahead, despite the damage that a no deal will do on top of the economic damage we’re already experiencing because of the epidemic, because unicorns, sunlit uplands, and English exceptionalism.
The only day job that matters right now for a senior politician is focussing on this epidemic. There’s only one politician out of the pair of them who is prioritising ideology over people’s lives and the public good. It’s not Nicola Sturgeon. Everything else has been cancelled or postponed because of coronavirus, but not Brexit even though the UK is experiencing not so much sunlit uplands as a plague village. The exceptionalism of the British state will destroy the UK. We can only hope and pray that it doesn’t take too many lives in the process.
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