Ever since this crisis started the response of the Conservatives in London has been characterised by confusion, tardiness, lies, and venality. There has been one unforced error after another, the latest being the confusing and confused message given to the UK by Johnson in his pre-recorded broadcast on Sunday night. The official British response to the epidemic has now descended into farce. The new stay alert slogan that was so proudly unveiled over the weekend requires a fifty page document detailing what it means exactly. A slogan which requires pages of explanatory notes so that it can be properly understood is not a slogan at all. It’s a book title. In this case it’s a fantasy novel.
During a national emergency, a good Prime Minister needs to be able to rise above the back and forth of everyday party politics. They need to be able to speak to members of the public who haven’t voted for the Prime Minister’s party, to inspire trust and provide reassurance even to people who are not predisposed to listen or to believe in them.
There are many people in Scotland who are unhappy with Nicola Sturgeon. There are opponents of independence who instinctively distrust Thatessempee. There are independence supporters who are angry and frustrated at the lack of progress toward achieving another independence referendum. However the consensus of opinion across the political spectrum is that Nicola Sturgeon is performing well during this crisis. She is providing clarity and reassurance. She repeatedly tells the nation that she is not seeking to make party political points or to use this national tragedy for narrow party aims. She speaks clearly and openly about the challenges facing us all. She treats the public like grown ups. That’s why a recent opinion poll found that over 70% of people in Scotland trust the information that they receive from the Scottish Government. Only the NHS is more trusted. That such a large majority of the Scottish population trusts the Scottish Government means that a very large chunk of people who don’t vote SNP have faith in the way that the Scottish Government has been tackling this emergency. That’s a remarkable finding in a country that the British nationalists are always telling us is divided in two.
You can’t say the same about Boris Johnson. He has failed dismally at performing the role of the uniting national leader taking the whole UK with him, and for a man who models himself on the wartime Winston Churchill that’s a failure on a personal as well a professional and a political level. His defenders still want us to believe that he’s the best man for the job. One even challenged people on Twitter to name anyone who could do the job better. He was deluged by thousands of replies telling him “literally anyone I know.”
Johnson has screwed up his messaging so badly that he’s even managed to piss off Phillip Schofield, the normally cosy pullover wearer who angrily ranted on This Morning that the Prime Minister’s confused speech on Sunday evening had “tipped him over the edge”. Being subjected to an angry rant from Phillip Schofield is like being torn to shreds by the teeth and claws of a bear that you’ve provoked into rage and fury – only the bear is Bungle from Rainbow.
Meanwhile the British press in Scotland is more concerned about whether a divergence between the advice given by Holyrood and Westminster will create confusion. In their eyes it is of course the fault of Holyrood for daring to be different which is the source of the confusion, not a Westminster Government which doesn’t know its arse from its furlough. In Italy the various regions have been coming out of lockdown in their own ways. Each of the states in the USA is responding differently. In Spain some regions remain in lockdown while others are coming out of it. It’s only in Scotland that this sort of thing is going to be too complicated for people to grasp. Because, you know, people who live in Scotland might not realise that they live in Scotland and are subject to Scottish rules and Scots law.
If there’s any divergence it’s the fault of Scotland. If there’s any confusion it’s the fault of Scotland. It’s the typical attitude of English exceptionalism and it’s so ingrained in the cringing British nationalists in Scotland that they don’t even realise that they’re doing it, that they’ve lost all self-respect. The British state is founded upon the unreasonable expectation that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland should simply fall in line with England and slavishly follow along and do what England does without complaint or hesitation, even if this puts people in those countries at risk. The default assumption is always that what England’s rulers do is right. When the Scottish Government recently advised the use of face coverings in enclosed public spaces such as shops and public transport, it was rejected out of hand by British nationalists in Scotland. But now that the British Government is giving the same advice they’re happy to comply.
Their tragedy is that for all their flag waving, their eating up of the mythology of Britishness, they’re still just Jocks as far as English nationalists are concerned. Our tragedy is that their determination to ignore the advice of the Scottish Government because Boris Johnson and the Tories say something different is risking people’s lives.
All this is for the sake of supposed British unity and respecting the so-called union, when English politicians generally give Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland no consideration at all. Boris Johnson couldn’t even be arsed to inform the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish governments about the changes he was planning to make to lockdown regulations, never mind consulting with them. Nicola Sturgeon told a press conference that she only found out about them when she read about them in the newspapers last week. Today she was forced to reiterate that the changes that Johnson had announced on Sunday do not apply to Scotland.
On Sunday evening in his pre-recorded waffle Boris Johnson had the utter gall to tell everyone that he’d consulted on his changes with Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast. Respect is a two way street. The Conservatives demand that we respect the union, but what they really mean is that Scotland must obey. They never demand that Westminster respects the union. British nationalism is a fantasy novel in which Scotland’s role is the cheerful servant.
There is no union. There never really was, but this coronavirus epidemic has cruelly exposed the lies upon which the myth of union was based. We saw that when PPE manufacturers in England put notices on their websites restricting sales to England only. We saw it when the British Government repeatedly made announcements without bothering to consult with Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland’s governments first. But above all we see it in the shocking reality of a mounting death toll that’s the highest in Europe and a Scottish Government that constantly has to fire-fight the irresponsibility, confusion, and incoherence of Westminster.
The only way that Scotland will ever get any respect from Westminster is when Scotland is an independent nation, and deals with Westminster as an equal.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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