Tuesday 2 February 2021

The SNP and the EU are both vaccine failures


There is a limit to what any Government can do in a pandemic. It can close borders. It can borrow money. It can impose restrictions on what citizens can do. In the absence of a vaccine the Government would have been powerless. It could delay people getting infected by locking them down, but we would all have just been waiting either for the virus to burn itself out or for us to pick it up eventually. We could hardly have stayed at home forever. The vaccine was the first issue where a Government could make a real difference.

With hindsight we should have closed our borders in January last year, but almost no one in the world suggested this. Only very few, very isolated countries have succeeded in keeping Covid out of their country. We should have gone into lockdown earlier. But imagine the complaints if Britain had gone into lockdown last January while the rest of the world was working and going on holiday.

But the vaccine is the first issue on which hindsight does not apply and it is therefore the first issue on which political performance can sensibly be judged. The British Government spent billions on supporting vaccine research and ordering the vaccine when we didn’t know it was going to work. We spent seven times as much per person as the EU. While the British Government spent a fortune, the Scottish Government spent nothing.

All of the announcements that Nicola Sturgeon made each day on TV, made little if any difference. The fact that she chose slightly different lockdown policies saved few if any lives. Indeed, if there had been no Scottish Government at all it would have made little difference. If Scotland had voted for independence in 2014 and later joined the EU we would now be watching as the former UK was vaccinating its citizens, while we would be waiting for the EU to deliver vaccines that it had failed to sufficiently research and failed to sufficiently order.

The failure of the EU on the vaccine, but above all its spiteful response to this failure, has changed more minds on the Remain Leave issue than anything else since 2016. The EU has been shown to be cumbersome and bureaucratic. Being a large organisation of 27 countries hasn’t helped it order enough vaccines for its population nor deliver them effectively. Tiny Israel on its own has done massively better, but so too has Britain freed from the constraint of having to agree with 27 countries before doing anything.

But it is not so much the inefficiency of the EU that has begun to change minds in Britain, it is the continuance of the EU’s vindictive response to Brexit even about a life-saving vaccine that has made us see it for what it is.

The EU wished, however briefly, to use the Northern Ireland Protocol Article 16 to close the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, despite forcing Britain to sign up to the protocol precisely to prevent this happening. It wished to do this without even consulting politicians in Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Neither Britain nor Ireland ever intended to close the border. It was open before Britain and Ireland joined the European Community.  If the issue had been left to Britain and Ireland there would not have even been an issue.

The folly of Ireland turning Northern Ireland into an EU issue has been shown better by the Northern Ireland Protocol than anything else, for now the EU has a mechanism for closing the border which it did not have before. If it can use it once it can use it again.

There was no danger of Ireland exporting vaccines to Northern Ireland, because the Northern Irish people are getting all the vaccines they need from Britain. But if the EU could decide to close the border on a non-issue, how much more might it decide to impose a border if there really was something it wanted to prevent Ireland from exporting to Northern Ireland? It is for this reason that it is crucial for both Britain and Ireland to revoke the Northern Ireland Protocol.

But worse than this was the EU’s threat to impose a vaccine blockade on Britain, just because an American firm Pfizer chose to locate a vaccine factory in Belgium. Elderly British citizens who had already received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, might have been denied the second even though the British Government had in good faith ordered the doses months before the EU did and had already paid for them. It was this more than anything else that showed the British people what we were dealing with. It was the culmination of the EU’s attempt to punish Britain for Brexit. It would have cost lives.

Scotland has benefited from not being in the EU this past year. It is only because we did not take part in the collective EU vaccination programme, that we have sufficient doses in Scotland. Last July the SNP’s Philippa Whitford criticised this decision, but she and the SNP have been proved wrong.

If Britain had followed SNP advice, we would be stuck in the vaccine slow lane. This would have cost Scottish lives. But the SNP Government has not taken full advantage of the fact that Scotland is a part of the UK. Despite being given sufficient doses of vaccine and despite all the false excuses Scotland is still performing worse than any other part of the UK. This too will cost lives.

England has already vaccinated all care home residents. So, Scotland can hardly use choosing to vaccinate care home residents first as an excuse for lagging behind. Scotland has received 1.1 million doses, but we have only used 575,000. England has vaccinated 14.36% of the population with one dose while Scotland is coming in last with 10.54%.

If it had been up to Sturgeon Scotland would be nowhere near 10%, but rather struggling along with the EU. But she can’t even take advantage of the fact that she was ignored. Perhaps it is out of sympathy with her beloved EU that Sturgeon is so inefficient at delivering vaccines, but it more likely that her focus is not on delivering healthcare, but rather on delivering independence.

Vaccination is an issue on which we can judge the performance not merely of the EU, but also of the SNP. Just as Remainers have been made to see the EU for what it is, so too SNP supporters and independence supporters in general can see that the Scottish Government is not performing as well as the other parts of the UK. If Covid has given a boost to Sturgeon and the SNP and made some Scots think we would be better off on our own, the failure of SNP policy in wanting us to join the failed EU vaccination programme and also its failure to deliver the vaccine provided by Britain, should make them think twice for it is a twofold failure.

If it were up to the SNP Scotland would not even have the one million doses which it is failing to deliver. Sturgeon’s focus on independence rather than healthcare is killing Scots. If Remainers can now see the EU for what it is, all Scots should see the SNP for what it is.