Wednesday 20 May 2020

Are we having fun in lockdown Scotland?

The task of leadership is not to get people to do things they want to do, but rather to get them to do things they don’t want to do.

It was remarkably easy to get the vast majority of the British people into lockdown. We were scared and we hardly needed to be told at all. With very few exceptions nearly everyone has obeyed the rules even when we thought they were excessive. There has been minimal grumbling, hardly anyone has been arrested and few fines have been paid. The police may have annoyed some of us, but they have enforced the rules and regulations with minimal force and for the most part with consent. A quiet word has usually been enough. This has been a good effort by everyone. It was far better than form filling authoritarianism seen in some European countries.

There are a few lockdown sceptics who will need no encouragement to leave their homes, but I think most of us were quite content to stay at home so long as we  could either work there or got paid 80% of our wages for not working, but this cannot go on much longer.

Staying like this isn’t going to work economically. It isn’t going to work mentally, and it isn’t going to work socially. People are going to have to be able to make new friends, go on dates and get married. Young children will not develop linguistically or learn to behave with others if they are stuck at home.

But how do you get a reluctant population to begin making the steps to normality that are necessary. Boris Johnson and his Government has tried to get Britain back to work, but his leadership in encouraging people to do something they don’t want to do has been hampered by the lack of leadership shown by the devolved administrations with their message to stay at home.

There isn’t going to a completely safe moment when we try to get back to normal. We might wait a year and still there would be a chance that people would catch Covid on their way to work or even in a school. But by then there wouldn’t be any wages and there might not be any food either.

 Nicola Sturgeon may have increased her popularity in Scotland. There is a rally round the flag effect in any crisis. Whether this continues afterwards is another matter. Her argument for Scottish independence is worse now that Britain has demonstrated the solidarity that goes with being a single nation state versus the lack of solidarity that is so evident in the European Union. She also isn’t doing quite as well as some Scottish nationalists think.

Scotland has a number of advantages with regard to Covid. We are sparsely populated compared to most of Europe. We don’t have an international airport hub and we don’t get that many tourists in the Winter and Spring because of our weather. Yet in terms of Covid cases per 100,000 people Scotland is doing rather worse than England. This may be pure chance. One infected person who happened to fly back to Dundee rather than Derby might have made an enormous difference to the statistics

It’s worrying that the SNP have not been entirely transparent about Covid cases such as at the Nike conference in Edinburgh in February. Can we trust them to tell the truth about what has gone on in Scottish care homes? Can we indeed trust their figures at all if for instance they were inconvenient for Sturgeon’s argument for Scottish wondrousness and independence?

While Boris Johnson’s Government faces hostile questioning from most journalists and relentless negativity from the BBC, Sturgeon reacts with fury at a reporter suggesting she might be enjoying the crisis. The reporter repents repeatedly and offers to wear sack cloth and ashes if only Sturgeon will call off the swarm of gnats buzzing relentlessly like the Scottish form of water torture.

If Boris Johnson reacted in such a way to a reporter in London he would be ridiculed and anyway it wouldn’t do any good. Reporters in London are not scared of the Prime Minister, but they are scared of the First Minister. Why? Does Donna Nicola Sturgeone play the fairy godmother with horses’ heads?

Sturgeon’s justification for not following Johnson’s lead on lockdown was that Scotland caught the bug a bit later. While England has 259 cases per 100,000 Scotland has 269. Wales tragically has 400 while Northern Ireland is doing a bit better with 235. But the differences within Scotland are greater than between parts of Scotland and England. On that basis it would have made more sense for her to have put a border between the Central Belt and Tayside and the rest of us north and south of those places.

But having gone her own way Sturgeon is going to have to find her own way out. She has helped those in England who don’t want schools to go back and who don’t want to take any risks at all. But Sturgeon still faces the same task as Johnson. She is going to have to somehow get a scared Scottish population to go back to work and school, this week, next week or next year. She has rejected Boris Johnson’s method. So, what will her method be?

The British Government is facing great reluctance from those of us who are too scared to go back to normal. But it at least it has the ability to offer carrots and ultimately it will have the stick of withdrawing the wages of those who are furloughed. But what can Sturgeon offer? She is paying no one’s wages and the money she is offering as subsidy is Treasury money tied up with a Tartan ribbon.

The fear in Scotland or perhaps the prejudice is such that there are people telling Northumbrians to stay away by writing swear words on the border sign. They are apparently unaware that Northumbria is safer than Scotland. Imagine how Scots would react if we were banned from traveling to England and if English lorries refused to travel to Scotland for fear of getting ill. It also makes little sense for the Welsh to try to keep the English out when the danger of infection is the other way round.

Sturgeon has doubled down on “stay home” rather than go along with the gradualist approach from London. She couldn’t possibly be enjoying having an independent policy, could she? No one is suggesting that she is glad that people are dying, but generals throughout history have taken advantage of wars, they didn’t want to fight, in order to gain fame and success afterwards. To take advantage of a crisis is to be human. To deny this is to claim to be a Saint.

But how does Sturgeon change her message. Perhaps she will be a MacGradualist, only everything will be that much slower than in England. But gradually Scotland is going to fall ever further behind and ever more in need of the Rishi Sunak money coming our way even when England no longer needs it. I’d enjoy hearing from Nicola Sturgeon how making Scotland ever more impoverished and dependent on British money is preparing us for Scottish independence.  Maybe Sarah Smith could ask her.