BY EFFIE DEANS
Scotland entered lockdown at exactly the same time as the other parts of Britain. We did so because we were following the advice that had been given to the British Government by the SAGE committee of scientific experts.
Boris Johnson announced a very cautious easing of this lockdown some time ago, but Nicola Sturgeon decided that nothing would change in Scotland. Why?
I’m not a politician, but this is the sort of question that opposition politicians should be asking. Are there really scientific grounds for Scotland following a different policy? I’m not a doctor, but while there are a lot of Covid cases in the Central Belt especially in care home, the number of cases in rural Scotland is comparable to England. Overall the number of cases in Scotland per 100,000 people is just a tiny bit worse than in England. So, is the delay that applies to Scotland really scientifically justified?
The SNP have come up with a document called “Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis”. Did Nicola Sturgeon write it? No. She has no medical training. Did any other SNP politician write it? Perhaps someone from the SNP is a member of the SAGE committee, but I doubt it. So, on whose advice are we staying in lockdown and diverging from the advice given in London?
The best scientists from every part of Britain are already advising the UK Government so which scientists is Sturgeon using? Those who couldn’t quite make it onto SAGE? No, she is using the same experts as the Boris Johnson and his Government, but she is taking that advice and telling her civil servants to give it a Scottish rinse and spin.
The last time there was a major pandemic in Britain was in 1968-1969. There was no devolution. Is there any evidence that Scotland fared worse than other parts of Britain because we followed the same Government advice? If not, why are we following different advice now? Any future inquiry will have to ask Nicola Sturgeon if devolution saved any Scottish lives and if so, how many? It must also ask whether devolution helped or hindered the British response to Covid. If it turns out that devolution led to confusion and that this confusion cost lives in any part of Britain then it will be imperative to address questions why for instance SNP politicians expect to influence and vote on health issues that apply only in England, but the British Government has no say on health care in Scotland apart from funding it.
The Scottish route out of lockdown is remarkably similar to the English route because the science behind it is the same. Sturgeon may allow or ban this or that on a particular date, but the essence of getting us to go back to work and school is the same.
The future inquiry must ask Sturgeon how many Scottish lives were saved by her deciding to wait a few weeks longer than Boris Johnson? But more importantly it must ask her how many Scottish lives did her policy cost.
There is a careful balance between the costs and benefits of lockdown. There was no lockdown in 1968 and a certain number of British people died as a result. But how many would have died if lockdown had been introduced then. If no one had gone to work in 1968 for three or four months how would this have changed the health outcomes in the next decades?
In the next few years we will discover quite a lot about health in Scotland. It may be that the effect of lockdown lasting longer in Scotland than in England will be measurable in terms of educational attainment, unemployment, cancer rates, heart disease and poverty.
There is an experiment going on. We all entered lockdown at the same time. But Scotland is choosing to leave later and move more slowly than England. This could save lives in the short term, but what if it costs them in the long run? In that case it will be the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon who are to blame.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with devolution. There are various forms of it around the world, but devolution only works when the devolved parts accept that they are subordinate. The states in the US and the Länder in Germany do not think of themselves as countries or nations. They are not continually agitating to be independent and therefore they are not coming up with different policies for the sake of it and in order to justify their existence. It means that this system of Government works well. Devolution plus nationalism is explosive and unstable inherently. You have to take away the one or the other.
Devolution in Britain is lopsided. England has none while the SNP in particular continually uses the Scottish Parliament to assert its independence while relying on Treasury money to fund that independence. This has become incoherent.
Scotland cannot decide to leave lockdown later and more slowly than the rest of Britain while these separate decisions are not funded by the Scottish taxpayer and or Scottish borrowing. If Rishi Sunak is paying Scottish wages and bailing out Scottish businesses, it cannot be that he has no influence at all on when Scots return to work.
Because England is leaving lockdown earlier and more quickly than Scotland, it will follow that English workers will no longer be furloughed while Scottish workers wait for Nicola Sturgeon to tell us to start earning money again? This means that English taxpayers pay for Sturgeon’s desire to be different from England. This might have been justified if Covid was significantly worse in most of Scotland, but it isn’t.
Devolution for the first time has led to border controls in Britain. Covid is being used to further the SNP independence agenda. While the gullible in England cheer on Nicola Sturgeon’s caution and compassion, it may be costing Scottish lives by keeping us inactive, making us fatter and ruining still further our education and job prospects. I have always thought that the long-term economic costs of Covid would kill more than the disease. If that is the case, then Nicola Sturgeon must be held to account for Jockdown, but of course neither Scottish opposition politicians nor voters would dare to do that.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.