BY EFFIE DEANS
In recent weeks we have seen the power of the sovereign nation state deal with a crisis in a way that has not been seen since 1945. The British Government has been able to spend almost without limit to keep our people safe. It has taken other extraordinary measures to keep us in our homes and to keep essential services running. Other European countries have taken similar measures. Some have gone further by closing their borders, though others have been unable to do as much as Britain because they have a shared currency. There have been two lessons. The sub-national and the supra-national have become irrelevant.
Nicola Sturgeon may give press conferences and she may try to give a Tartan tinge to the crisis, but in essence she is either repeating the advice she heard from the British Government or else she is failing to implement initiatives such as the volunteer scheme in England that would be useful here too. We have discovered that the Scottish Government is not really a Government at all. In time of crisis it is Rishi Sunak who controls the money that will pay Scottish wages and help Scottish businesses keep going. It’s hard to see how the Scottish Government is contributing anything except getting in the way of a united British response to a deadly disease.
Devolution is failing the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The devolved parliaments are saving no lives. The last thing we need is confusion and separate health care. We need a single National Health Service for the whole of Britain. We don’t need division and those who want to split our country. We likewise don’t need those who have spent the past decade concentrating on Scottish independence rather that Scottish hospitals.
There are quite a lot of people in Northern Ireland who would like to be governed by Dublin. Are these people going to refuse the money that the British Treasury will be giving them in the coming weeks and months? The Irish Government frequently has an opinion about Northern Ireland, but it will not pay the wages of anyone in Northern Ireland and it will not help any Northern Irish businesses. Perhaps the Irish Government should promise to pay back any money that we give Northern Ireland before making any more murmurings about unification. Could the Irish Government even have met the expense of both subsidising Northern Ireland and dealing with the present crisis there?
When this crisis has passed let us work out the bill and present it to Dublin. This is the price of voting for Sinn Féin, talk to us again when you have paid it. The same point of course should be made to Nicola Sturgeon about independence. Scottish nationalists can talk again about separation when they’ve paid back their wages.
All over Europe the sub-national has become irrelevant. No one cares about Bavaria’s response to Covid 19. When we count cases and deaths, we are counting the whole of Poland, France and Spain. Each country is fighting the disease together, united and with common purpose. The sub-national has dropped out of the equation. But so too the supra-national has contributed little compared to the nation state.
The decisions by various European countries to close their borders and the decisions to do whatever is necessary to help keep their countries working effectively have all been taken by national Governments. We have discovered that EU rules about free movement and the various rights of EU citizens have become meaningless.
Does anyone care what if anything the European Parliament has said about Covid 19? Is anyone listening to the European Commission or its president Ursula von der Leyen? Angela Merkel’s opinion is far more important, because she and her Government can act. The EU is paying no one’s wages. The EU is bailing out no firms. The EU is saving no lives. The EU is a complete irrelevance.
Every country in Europe has its own policies. The Swedes and the Dutch are following the advice of their experts. The Poles and the Czechs are deciding how long their borders will be closed and the rules and regulations of social distancing. There is no EU Government that is controlling anything, deciding anything or even doing much to help. The European Central Bank has done what it can to help the Euro, but it has been unable to do what the Bank of England and the British Chancellor has done because there is no agreement on pooling and sharing the debts of the member states of the Eurozone.
This is the difference between being a part of a nation state and being part of the EU. If a Scottish bank or business is in trouble the British Treasury will come to the rescue. If Scottish people have no wages or indeed if Scottish hospitals cannot cope, then the British Government will respond to the crisis. They will do this even if you hate Britain and want to leave. The EU wouldn’t pay your wages if you lived in an independent Scotland. It wouldn’t bail out your business. It wouldn’t organise a flight to get you home.
People all over Europe are going to realise quickly that neither the sub-national (Scotland, Catalonia etc), nor the supra-national (EU, UN etc) did much to help. Why pay those who don’t help? Individual citizens working with their national Government will solve this crisis. Both the EU and the Scottish Government just became irrelevant.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.