There’s a wistfulness in the air. We’re no longer marvelling at clear skies above China and translucent blue canals in Venice. We’re watching from behind the sofa as death rates continue to rise around the globe, and fluctuations occur, leading to second, or even third wave and Lockdown periods, such as in Hong Kong and India.
The UK is still way up there with the hideous numbers, despite a flattening of the curve since the height of the pandemic in April/May. This, as a result of reckless lazy and confusing non-leadership from Johnson, where herd immunity still hangs in the air as a threat.
Nicola Sturgeon, initially hamstrung by a dearth of devolved powers, and perhaps a wish, or pressure to lockdown in tandem with rUK, has now achieved an elevated level of popularity due to a partial divergence in Lockdown withdrawal, and a significantly reassuring presence. We can’t turn back the clock to amend the devastating losses, but the infection and death rates have fallen due to better management all round.
However we’re watching with increasing anxiety as our neighbours south go back into local lockdown. We’re also holding our breath as the statistics are elegantly presented by the FM and her cohorts on a regular basis. If you miss today’s update, we can probably tell you how the infection rates compare over the last few days, and when the last person died of Coronavirus in Scotland. We’re on edge. Are we looking at another lockdown at some point? Is it inevitable? Sweet re-unions with friends and family have the air of imminent departure. It feels like a window of opportunity, to live and love before we must re-surrender our freedoms to the greater good.
Despite Nicola Sturgeon’s stated aim towards elimination of the virus, and enduring optimism in Scotland that this can be achieved, there remains a conflict, or more accurately, an unbreachable chasm between the pressures to prioritise public health, or the economy and business interests.
As each lockdown measure is lifted, a pressure group or spokesperson emerges to make the opposite case. Cue regular media appearances since day one of Lockdown, by Nightclub owner Donald MacLeod, for instance, and his concerns about no foreseeable re-opening dates. This conflicts with reports of increased infection rates amongst younger people, in recent days. It is thought to be as a result of the re-opening of pubs and restaurants. The many faceted arguments about the return to full time schooling, and the conflicting pressures, not least Tory advisors, is an unfolding story yet to be told. It will no doubt be epic, and potentially catastrophic.
And so it continues. The thing is, and allow me to overstate this here: Yes, the economy is in trouble, and many have desperate worries about their future, but the virus has not gone away. There may be less of it around, but it’s just as keen to enter one-meter zoned mask-free hospitality environments, as fully sanitised and carefully organised spaces, whether publicly or privately owned. It crosses borders, it arrives through our letterbox, on our clothes, or from our shopping bags if it can. It doesn’t mind where you meet it. It will be pleased to see you. It may be deadly or it may hitch a lift to your elderly parents or immuno-compromised aunt.
I know. We’ve heard this sort of thing almost every day since Lockdown began, and, sadly, even before that. But have we? Have we really heard it? The competing pressures from the toxic airwaves of our TVs and radios only serve to swill stagnant water, and amplify need. Everyone’s needs; from Dave and Betsy, whose holiday in the Canaries are now ruined, to the parent who needs to get back to work, the teacher who needs a safely structured environment to achieve it. Everyone has a case. Many have a voice. Some louder than others.
It turns out that the loudest voice that we may hear in coming weeks and months will be that of Ruth Davidson. The Tories have mobilised their own re-cycled Gordon Brown, to save the Union. The Scottish Tories don’t hear the clamour for radical financial measures to prevent premature opening of businesses and services, or the needs of those on expiring contracts or furlough agreements. The Westminster Tories hear these things, and they ignore them. The Scottish Tories only hear one thing. Independence.
They hear party political broadcasts when most of us hear Coronavirus updates. They hear, loud and clear, the demands of big business contacts, anxious to protect shareholders and crank up The Machine again. They hear every nuance, and every pin drop when they think a U-turn by the Scottish Government has been or could be achieved. They hear every word and every syllable that might suggest any measures to protect Scotland from the increased risk of Coronavirus from England, and imagine or fabricate them when they don’t.
But mostly, they hear that the First minister needs to be hefted from her elevated position of respect. They hear that the polls for independence have shown a steady increase, and that the public must be railroaded back along a path of stagnant and increasingly isolationist Unionism. The charade of the bitter Carlaw’s resignation, and the expected coronation of Douglas Ross is a mere flutter in the wind. In the meantime, until the Scottish Government elections, the emerging story is that Ruth is back to Put the Boot in at FMQs. The Pandemic has been officially politicised.
The waters are choppy, for sure. A Pandora’s box of grievances has been opened in the Scottish political scene too. The GRA debate, the Alex Salmond debacle, selection issues and the emergence of the small “list parties”, with some dubious characters in their wake, for the 2021 Holyrood elections. Some of it will matter terribly to some people. Much of it won’t.
Much of it will be a question of being swept along with a UK, focused on delivering Brexit to Middle England, or not. That scenario will matter terribly to families and individuals who will see their fears realised when it comes to even more financial insecurity and inequality, when the window for relative normality snaps shut on their fingers.
It will matter more than clapping for carers, along with Boris Johnson. More than going to the pub, or cashing in a voucher for junk food. As Ruth prepares to don the ermine, and the title, it just may be the case that the return of a vacuous populist presence, will no longer be enough to stem the flow of the crashing wave of Brexit, amidst the ongoing health and financial fears.
When the First Minister holds her nerve, the general public is behind her, whether we are currently committed to an independent future or not. We want strong benevolent leadership. This matters. Nicola Sturgeon has committed herself to leadership for all of Scotland as FM, and it shows.
I, like many others, was frustrated at her initial compliance with the Four Nations approach, and there are deadly serious lessons to be learned from this. And then her continual insistence that the Coronavirus should not be politicised. As Carlaw cranked up his criticisms, Sturgeon has mainly remained patient, with occasional rebukes as you would to a snapping dog. I wanted to hear so much more comeback from her about the lack of powers in a Scotland still tied to Westminster. More about the need for Universal basic Income.
But the polls for independence continued to rise in spite, or maybe because of the FM’s doggedness to emphasise a non-political stance. However, as we cartwheel towards the 2021 elections, pivotal in terms of the next move towards an independence referendum, it is essential that those flirting with the notion of independence at the moment are brought securely into the fold.
A make-over SNP manifesto of measures to re-distribute wealth, and address Land Reform and Council Tax issues, for instance, would be very easy on the eye, but given the endurance of this virus, the First Minister and the Scottish Government must use every power at their disposal to protect the nation from the surge of coronavirus cases from anywhere in the UK. We already know that she is damned if she does or doesn’t. Let her be decisive. We know, also, that the Tories are not the only business-friendly party in Holyrood. Let’s hope that the Scottish Government will pull the blanket over those in most need, including those tenants reaching the end of their rent “holiday”, even if that leaves the more privileged exposed to the elements.
As the soft Yes/No voters start to look beyond image, and towards substance, they will avert their eyes from Baroness-to-be Davidson. Substance has never been her strong point. Ermine is unlikely to impress. They will ask about currency and financial security, and may not like what the Growth Commission has to say. They may continue to ask about borders, but the question may be different this time. It may be “How will you protect our Nation from the ravages of this Pandemic”
If 2020 abducted us into a Dystopian nightmare, wait till we see 2021 as part of Brexit UK, and no foreseeable end to the virus. We should expect a roller-coaster, but as one window may start to close a little, it is vitally important that there is a much bigger one about to open in the longer term that lets in a welcome surge of fresh air.
Header photo image by Cath Ferguson