The millstone that is Westminster

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Scotland is making significant progress in tackling the coronavirus epidemic. For the past three days there have been no reported deaths from covid-19 in the country. It’s a small but very hopeful sign that the efforts of the Scottish Government to get the virus under control are working. We cannot be complacent, although progress has been made it’s fragile and easily derailed. Unfortunately one of the biggest risk factors that Scotland faces in provoking a second wave of virus deaths is the British Government.

Scotland has an open border with England. Indeed, British nationalists insist that there is no border at all. Whatever progress Scotland makes toward containing the virus can all too easily be undone.

In England the British Government is cheerfully opening up the country paying far more heed to focus groups and favourable headlines than it is to scientific and public health advice. Despite the fact that Scotland and Wales remain in lockdown, people in England are being encouraged to travel, to meet up, and there’s nothing to prevent them coming across the border. There are already numerous anecdotal reports of holidaymakers from England arriving in parts of Scotland in large numbers. There is pressure to reduce the two metre social distancing rule to one metre. There are demands that the shops and businesses must open up quicker. The British Government shows every sign of acceding to these demands. It’s putting Scotland’s progress toward containing the virus at risk.

For all that Boris Johnson claimed that he was relying upon the common sense of the British public, events over the past week have shown that there are far too many people who have precious little in the way of common sense. We are already seeing the first ripples of a second wave, today there are reports in the press that the Home Office is considering the introduction of a localised lockdown in the English city of Leicester to deal with a spike in infections there. The crowded scenes on English beaches this week mean that there’s a very frightening prospect of a fresh outbreak of the virus in the communities that those sunseekers will return to.

In dealing with this crisis Scotland has additional problems that it would not face as an independent country. There are British nationalist idiots in Scotland who freely declare on social media that they will take their cue on how to act during this epidemic from the British Government in London and not from the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. In this action they are encouraged by British nationalist parties in Scotland who constantly undermine the Scottish Government and create public distrust in the advice that’s being given. When the advice given by those governments significantly differs, that becomes a serious problem.

Ireland doesn’t have to deal with a block of its population who say that they’ll follow Westminster’s advice instead of Dublin’s. It doesn’t have a significant chunk of its media which promotes the advice of Westminster instead of the advice of Dublin. Scotland has all these problems. As well as people in Scotland who openly and knowingly choose to ignore advice from the Scottish Government which conflicts with the advice from Westminster, there are many more who are bathed in a media sea which gives far greater prominence and publicity to the advice given for England and who are genuinely confused about what actions are or are not permitted in Scotland.

This problem is compounded because we have a British Government which doesn’t bother to inform, never mind consult with, the devolved administrations about changes to UK Government advice or policy regarding containment measures. Just this week Westminster announced that it was going to introduce so-called airbridges with certain European countries which will allow British citizens and residents to travel abroad on holiday without having to go into quarantine. This development came as news to the Scottish and Welsh Governments, which apparently learned about it from the press along with the public.

This is by no means the first time that the British Government has failed to consult with or engage with the governments of Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. When she appeared before a House of Commons select committee, Scottish health minister Jeane Freeman told MPs that she had had almost no contact at all with the Scotland Secretary Alister Jack – yet he is supposedly the minister in the UK Government who is responsible for ensuring that Scotland’s voice is heard at a UK level. Time after time the UK Government introduces some change, most commonly driven not by scientific advice but by its desire to chase some good headlines, and the governments of the devolved administrations are left playing catch up.

The greatest problem that Scotland faces in tackling the coronavirus is a British Government which acts so irresponsibly. If Scotland was an independent country it would have been able to act far more decisively and effectively in tackling the virus. We would not constantly be having to look over our shoulder at what the British Government was doing. The Scottish Government would not have to defend itself against attacks from a media which accused it of undermining British Government advice by taking different action to Westminster. We would be able to introduce health checks and controls on our southern border. And the Scottish Government would not constantly be wrong footed by a British Government which introduced substantial changes to policy which affect Scotland without informing the Scottish Government.

When this epidemic started British nationalists confidently predicted that the biggest global crisis since WW2 would make people in Scotland realise that Scotland needs the UK. It would, they told us, signal the end of the independence movement. They were badly wrong. It has instead shown Scotland how we are damaged and held back by a British Government which has no interest at all in looking after Scotland or taking Scotland’s needs or concerns into account. It has shown us that we can do a lot better without the millstone of Westminster holding us back. The focus of the next independence referendum campaign will be how the British state is damaging us.

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