Welcome to day one of the Great Scottish Lockdown. You already know how this is going to go don’t you. You’ll have got up today resolving that you’re going to use this time productively. You’re going to learn Gaelic on Duolingo. You’re going to spring clean the house. You’re going to fix the loose doorhandle on the door to the spare room that’s been broken for months. And then in two weeks time you’ll be lying on the sofa in your pyjamas, complaining that you’ve used up all of Netflix. All. Of. Netflix. But luckily you’ll discover, lurking in the far reaches of the programme guide, a Portuguese language movie about vampire chartered accountants, so you’ll start to watch it. Then you’ll realise that you’ve already seen it. And you still won’t have fixed the doorhandle.
The lockdown was clearly required. It should have happened sooner. By sheer luck, the UK was given a head start when it came to dealing with the coronavirus epidemic, yet that head start has been squandered. We’ve seen this before. The EU granted the UK an extension to the Brexit negotiation period last year and Donald Tusk pleaded with the British government, “Please do not waste this time.” They went on to do precisely that. Now they’ve done it again. For the first weeks of this crisis the British government did nothing. Boris Johnson spent the time hiding from the press, then picking fights with the civil service. Then he toyed with the herd immunity notion. And ever since his government has been giving confused and mixed messages.
This lockdown, welcome as it is, is still giving the public confused and mixed messages. You’re allowed out once a day for exercise, but how is that going to be enforced? Yet at the same time those of us who live in flats and have dogs are being told that we can only take our dogs out once a day. There is no dog in the world, especially not an elderly dog, which can be restricted to only peeing or crapping once a day. You try it with your own bladder and bowel movements and see how you get on. The only alternative is to allow the dog to piss and shit inside the house, which is scarcely hygienic.
In other countries where there’s a stricter lockdown than in the UK, you can walk your dog as often as required as long as you go alone, you remain at least two metres away from anyone else, and you stay within a short distance of your home. In Greece there’s a number you text on your mobile which authorises you to walk your dog up to four times a day. So between Greece and the UK, which is the banana republic basket case? The current UK rules appear to have been designed by middle class politicians and civil servants who have quarter acre back gardens and no real idea of how ordinary people live.
Rules need to be clear and simple. When they’re not clear, when they’re full of loopholes, people will exploit them. Yet they also need to be realistic. This is not rocket science here. What’s needed here, as a matter of some urgency, are clear and simple rules which are easy to follow and which are practical and realistic.
British government policy is being determined by Dominic Cummings, who is supposedly a genius at communicating messages. He’s not doing very well at it then, is he. If the reports about Dominic Cummings are true, and and he’s responsible for this confused and confusing set of mixed messages from the government and he really was the driving force behind the British government’s now discredited “herd immunity” policy, then it raises some very serious questions for Boris Johnson. Johnson is Dominic Cummings’ boss. Johnson hired him, and Johnson can fire him. But the PM insists on putting all his eggs in one basket case.
At some point we have to hold Johnson and the Tories to account. They have been ignoring advice from China and UK experts like the editor of the Lancet for weeks. The solution to this crisis is to restrict public movement, which has belatedly now happened, to test people for the virus, which is now starting to happen more frequently, and to trace the contacts of those found to be positive for the virus, which isn’t happening at all.
For the past ten years the Tories have presided over an entirely unnecessary austerity policy which has caused the decimation of British public services, meaning that the UK is uniquely challenged when it comes to tackling the coronavirus. Over the weekend Number 10 was forced to release a statement denying in the strongest terms that it had ever been British government policy to argue for “old people being allowed to die”. That would be true. They didn’t argue for it. It’s just that they weren’t going to be overly bothered if it happened. Even now, they’re still more concerned about the impact of the crisis on the economy than on the people.
This epidemic has turned everything on its head. A few weeks ago people were talking of the need to ensure that after Scottish independence an open border should still remain between Scotland and England. Now there’s folk demanding that the border is closed right now. There are effectively internal borders now, as travel to the islands has been restricted in order to help protect communities which don’t have easy access to fully equipped hospitals.
Efforts to keep people out of fragile communities in the Highlands aren’t helped by the likes of the Spectator’s Rod Liddle, who is complaining about the restriction it puts on his privilege. Yet you can be certain that if this virus was somehow spreading from Scotland to England, he’ be the first to demand a fence along the border to keep the Scots out.
Rod Liddle, the gammonfather, has penned a piece in that magazine of entitlement, the Spectator, demanding that people boycott Scotland because the Scottish Government has told people to stay away from the Highlands. The Highlands is the perfect place for entitlement metropolitans to self-isolate, Rod opines. However the communities in the Highlands and Islands are especially vulnerable. They contain a larger proportion of elderly and retired people than the rest of the country, but they’re also remote from ICU beds. Yet folk like Rod can only think about his own needs, not the needs of the communities into which he’s determined to insert his unwelcome presence. The Scottish government has an easy solution to the problem of people travelling to the Highlands. Simply breed billions of midgies to release over the West Highlands to ensure that everyone stays indoors. The plan would be criticised by the Conservatives, as they think they were the only ones allowed to be blood sucking parasites paid for by public funds.
The real lessons from this crisis will not be felt until after it’s over. The most important is that at every level in British government there’s an abdication of responsibility. We’ve had enough of experts, said a certain oleaginous Conservative who still remains in high office. Having enough of experts might work as a soundbite when you’re trying to appeal for the votes of the British exceptionalists who drove Brexit, in an epidemic it costs lives. The result is a public which is unclear on advice and which is happy to believe that it can do what it wants with no consequences. After all, there are no consequences for members of the British government when they screw up, as they so frequently do. This is what happens when you have no proper accountability in government. Scotland has only one cure for that, independence. It’s a cure that we will once again be campaigning for the moment this crisis has passed.
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