A terrible situation may be about to get far worse. The UK government has been guilty of criminal negligence in its mishandling of the crisis, now, for the sake of political expediency it is going to unleash chaos onto the streets under the language of “freedom”. The opportunity to pause and change some fundamentals about our society and our economy will be lost in a reversion to the rhetoric of Brexit. “Let’s get this virus done.” And in support the feeding frenzy of the English tabloids is now in full flow. Diverging from the principle that important announcements are made to parliament we are told that the statement from Boris Johnson on the route out of lockdown will be at 7pm on Sunday.
Populism as death cult. Nationalism in pandemic. Lager will flow.
Anglo-British exceptionalism and superiorism apparently has no limits at all. With a tentative centrist opposition leader in place and with the ability of the public to protest severely curtailed we are vulnerable to this extraordinary failure of leadership.
The risk of social chaos is real as the media becomes culpable in framing the lockdown experience as an affront to liberty, rather than a collective effort for public health. The Churchillian rhetoric about nurses and protecting the NHS is already being replaced by a more bellicose one about people on furlough being ‘addicts’ and a hint towards Austerity 2.0. If the communication is not clear the real risk is that social distancing and the lockdown just collapses into the dangerous fusion of misplaced celebration in communities experiencing high levels of fear and anxiety.
What should be quite clear is that it is Boris Johnson’s government taking a divergent approach. It is the exceptionalism of the Conservative government, not the Welsh or Scottish.
Nicola Sturgeon has said she will make decisions based on protecting public health in Scotland. “I will not be pressured into lifting restrictions prematurely” adding “Decisions we take now are a matter of life & death.”
The Welsh Government also issued a statement saying: “The Prime Minister’s announcements this weekend will relate to England only. Any decisions to ease restrictions in Wales will be announced by the Welsh First Minister.”
Despite this weird messaging that the Union should somehow take precedence over public health, we are now told that in fact the First Minister is not being kept in the loop about communications from No 10. So the message is you must do as we do but follow us blindly. There is no “partnership of equals”.
Yet today the First Minister has announced: “The lockdown must be extended at this stage.”
Nicola Sturgeon has announced a three week extension of lockdown measures, saying “progress remains fragile” and any easing of restrictions would be “very risky”.
The First Minister has had to follow a difficult path, criticised for not diverging earlier from the rUK policies she now has an opportunity to act. The devolution of health and education make the handling of the coronavirus clearly within the remit of the Scottish Government, but this is not without its complexities and problems.
If the lockdown is not being enforced or observed in the same way across the border then this raises significant issues about how that can be managed.
It was only a few weeks ago that there was a flurry of articles crowing that the coronavirus would be the death of the independence movement. The assumption was always that poor little Scotland would have to be sheltered by the benign stability of the British state. Yet here we are in a position where the Scottish death rate is around half the UK figure, and the evidence is clear that if we had been able to take the sort of action that a small independent country like New Zealand had, we might have suffered even less. Far from the virus being the death of independence it is the final nail in the coffin of the Union. Whilst Nicola Sturgeon has been scrupulous (so0me would say complicit) in NOT making political capital out of the crisis, she now has no alternative but to take a different path and protect public health from the gross irresponsibility of the UK government.
When we come out of this catastrophe, people will remember the shocking behaviour of Boris Johnson. I hope that’s true on both sides of the border.