Friday 20 November 2020

Sturgeon has no one left to blame


The SNP’s model of popularity has always been based on power without responsibility. Whenever good things happen, they are credited to Nicola Sturgeon, whenever bad things happen, they are blamed on Boris Johnson, Tories or the English. Scottish voters have been happy to go along with this.

When I point out that the death toll in Scotland is much higher than similarly sized countries in Europe, Scottish nationalists routinely fail to accept that the Scottish Government has any responsibility for this at all. They argue that Denmark, Norway, Finland and Slovakia, all countries with five populations of around five million, were able to close their borders and had all sorts of other advantages because they are independent nation states. But Scotland can close its border too. We just have.

Whether the SNP have the legal right to impose travel restrictions on people leaving and arriving in Scotland is immaterial. If Nicola Sturgeon says that something is a rule and the police are willing to enforce it, then this de facto is the law whatever the constitutional niceties.

There are of course absurdities. Airports are still open. If someone can fly in from Paris or Amsterdam he may well have come from almost anywhere. Someone from Inverness is allowed to drive to Glasgow to take a flight to Tenerife, but someone from Glasgow isn’t. The Glaswegian is allowed to get on the plane, but he isn’t allowed to drive, walk or crawl to the airport.

Meanwhile quite soon anyone who is called a student will be allowed to travel to Penzance or Pennsylvania to spend Christmas with his family. He may or may not take a voluntary Covid test before doing so. After spreading or picking up Covid at home, he will then be allowed to return to his place of study where all his teaching is online anyway. These journeys are necessary for otherwise universities would have empty accommodation and would go bust. It doesn’t matter though if your pub or restaurant goes bust.

So Glaswegians are not allowed to go on holiday, can’t visit England and can’t even visit Inverness, but people from Inverness can go anywhere and students in Glasgow can soon go anywhere too because while the University of Glasgow is a crucial business that must be saved, every other business in Glasgow can go bust so that Nicola Sturgeon has better Covid statistics than Boris Johnson.

What we have learned in the past few months is that the Scottish Government has rather more powers than we thought. There was nothing to stop it closing the border earlier. If it can do so now, it could have done so then. So, the idea that it lacked some power that independence would have given it, no longer applies.

Scotland already is de facto independent in every single way apart from we get free money from the Treasury and we will get a free Covid vaccine if and when it arrives. Apart from these things the Scottish Parliament can pretty much do what it likes domestically. It can raise and lower taxation. It can borrow. It can make any decision it wants on healthcare and education and it can enforce any rule or regulation it wants on the Scottish public and indeed people from elsewhere.

If a student lives in London and can choose where he lives and what he does his freedom and responsibility is not hindered by the fact that his university fees and part of his income are paid by a grant he won by winning an academic prize nor indeed if they are paid by a kind benefactor because he is an orphan.

The only things that Scotland practically cannot do are annex the Faeroe Islands and apply to join the European Union or the United Nations. Only nation states can apply. But there is no other effective limit on what Sturgeon can do. Even matters that we thought were reserved like borders are now within her control.

But this is where things become interesting politically. What have we received because we are part of Britain? We have received some advice from SAGE. We didn’t have to follow it, because we have our own experts, but we often chose to follow it none the less while passing it off as our own thinking. We have received some money that furloughed our workers and kept some of our businesses running. We have received nearly all of our food from lorries that we allow to travel freely from England even if no one else can.

Has the British Government forced the SNP to do anything about Covid that it didn’t want to do? No. It’s no use blaming English tourists or indeed English lorry drivers for spreading Covid, because Sturgeon could have closed the border. She could indeed have closed the border in effect to international travel if she had said they can fly into Glasgow, but they are not allowed to travel from the airport. That would have stopped it almost immediately.

So let’s say you are an SNP supporter in Glasgow and your business has just gone bust and your mother died earlier this year because her friend was sent back from hospital with Covid and infected everyone in the care home, who do you blame? You might tell yourself, it would have been different if only we had voted for independence in 2014. But how?

If Scotland had voted for independence, we wouldn’t have got any money from the Treasury. You may choose to believe that we could have afforded to be more generous, but this depends on the idea that independence would have immediately made us richer. But how? We would have lost all the money we get from the Treasury and we would have a hard border between England and Scotland because it would be the external border of the EU. All those lorries bringing us food would have to pay tariffs if indeed they chose to come at all. We would have had to pay for our own vaccine. The British Army would not have built any hospitals. SAGE would have given Sturgeon no advice. In addition, we would have had all the costs associated with setting up a new state. Long term you may believe Scotland would be richer. Perhaps we would, but short term even the SNP admit that independence would bring austerity and tough times for a decade or more. So how would we have dealt better with Covid if Yes had won in 2014?

But crucially if Scotland had voted for independence in 2014 or in the years since, Sturgeon would have had exactly the same power as now to deal with Covid. The only difference is that she would have had to accept responsibility and Scottish voters would have had to judge her on her domestic record.

This is our problem. Only if Scotland voted for independence would the SNP be judged on how well or how badly it ran Scotland, or would we continue to blame England for past wrongs just like Ireland does.

Everyone in Scotland votes according to their view on independence and ignores the SNP’s domestic record. But sorry whatever has happened this year because of Covid is entirely due to the SNP.

If you think lockdown was a mistake. If you think losing your job or losing your business was too high a price to pay. If your father died from cancer because he couldn’t get treatment, your uncle had a heart attack because he couldn’t see a doctor or your mother died in a care home because Sturgeon emptied the wards, there is no use blaming Boris Johnson even if you think he is a posh English idiot who took us out of the EU. Tories had nothing to do with Covid policies in Scotland. Sturgeon had the power and the money to what she pleased. She runs Scotland right now as if we were independent. There is no one else to blame.