Wednesday 6 January 2021

The Covid contradiction


According to Nicola Sturgeon there will be two elections this year. The first for the Scottish Parliament will take place in May and the second will be a referendum on Scottish independence. Elections normally involve lots of people meeting to hear campaign speeches and then lots of people travelling to polling stations, but both of these activities would be banned at the moment. How does Sturgeon know that they will be possible later this year? Scotland cannot even manage to keep schools open, yet in a few months we will be ready to separate from the United Kingdom.

There are a wide variety of opinions on Covid. Some people think lockdowns don’t work. They are probably correct. I think huge numbers of people who don’t think they are much at risk from the virus meet up with their friends and lovers no matter what the Government says. The only way to stop them would be introduce Chinese methods of surveillance or Japanese methods of rule following voluntarily.

But it matters little whether we agree or disagree with lockdown. Talk to the Government if you must, we are all going to be stuck inside with pretty much everything shut until things get better. It’s hard to believe under these circumstances that even one election in Scotland will be possible let alone two.

What could allow elections to take place? Last year lockdown was eased in May in England, but in Scotland we had to wait until late June for shops to open. Sturgeon will no doubt want to be equally cautious this year about everything other than the Scottish Parliament Election and indyref2.

Perhaps Covid will infect so many people in Scotland that there will be no one left for it to infect, but if Sturgeon wants to follow a MacBeth  (If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well It were done quickly) strategy then why doesn’t she open up everything let Covid rip through the population and we just might be ready for elections in May. If she’d followed that strategy from last March, we might be independent already, though rather too many of us might have been independently dead.

The strategy that Sturgeon will follow to get us ready for independence is to vaccinate as many of those most vulnerable to Covid as quickly as possible. But there is a contradiction here in her thinking.

Britain at present has two vaccines, the Pfizer and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca. The reason we have these two vaccines is because the British Government invested in vaccines when they were in development and ordered vast numbers of them when no one knew for sure that they would be successful or that they would be effective. We have them also because the

Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved them very quickly, much more quickly than the EU. Some would say too quickly but that was a judgement for scientists. Israel has already vaccinated a million people. If the vaccine were in any way dangerous, that danger would already be apparent. Simple empiricism tells us that it is safe.

But whether you are sceptical about Covid vaccination or not, whether you intend to have the vaccination or not (this should always be a free choice), the logic of the situation is this. In order for Scotland to be ready for a Scottish Parliament Election and for independence we have to reach a stage where schools and shops are open. But we can reach that stage either by letting Covid rip (the MacBeth strategy) or by vaccinating the population or by hoping that it eventually goes away. But the best hope for Sturgeon’s elections is clearly vaccination.

But her independence argument at both the elections she wants to take place will depend on something that Scotland neither researched, nor ordered nor paid for.

Independence supporters argue that if Scotland had voted to be independent in 2014, we would of course have ordered just as many vaccines as the UK did in 2020. But we know that this is not true. If Scotland had voted Yes in 2014 and joined the EU, we would have had to follow the EU strategy on vaccination.

Unfortunately, the EU under political pressure ordered 300 million doses of the French vaccine from GSK-Sanofi only to find that it does not work and won’t be ready until later this year if at all. There are shortages of vaccine in the EU which mean there are far less EU citizens being vaccinated at the moment than British citizens.

Sturgeon’s strategy for holding her independence referendum in 2021 depends therefore on the fact that she lost the referendum in 2014. But once you accept that something unforeseen in 2014 (i.e. Covid) made it advantageous for Scotland to stay in the UK, then it logically remains advantageous because we cannot predict something unforeseen now that would have made it advantageous for us to stay in the UK rather than leave.

A lot of Scots may not like Tories and Boris and may despite the evidence think Sturgeon is doing a better job, but if enough of us get vaccinated in the next few months and life goes back to normal afterwards it will not be because of anything Sturgeon or the SNP did. It will be solely because we rejected SNP separatism in 2014.