BY EFFIE DEANS
I think I am beginning to see a new variant of Covid or perhaps it is just a function of the lockdown. It is causing otherwise rational people to lose all perspective and behave in ways that their Pre-Covidian selves would have considered bizarre.
I’ve always found Britain to be relaxed sort of a place. If you don’t do anything wrong, you need almost never come into contact with officialdom. The police don’t stop us to check our papers. The people who check your passport are friendly and its unlikely that a customs official will go through your bags. I’ve been a little concerned lately about some of the thought crimes that have been made up, but I never worried about my neighbours informing on me or being turned in for re-education for making a joke. The last few weeks have changed this.
There is doubtless a lot of stress around at the moment. We are worried about getting ill or friends or family getting ill. We haven’t been able to socialise, but something very illiberal is happening. We are beginning to judge the private lives of individuals and if we don’t like it, we are informing the police or the papers.
Britain has done extraordinarily well under lockdown, but my guess is that millions of us have once or twice broken either the spirit or the letter of the rules. Nearly all of us have also done a little more than 30 miles an hour in town and a little over 70 on a motorway. Do we really want to live in a country where our actions are minutely patrolled to see if we broke a rule?
How many MPs are still living in London if they have homes elsewhere? Some of them were quick off the mark and left prior to lockdown. Others like Ian Blackford drove all the way from London to the Isle of Skye.
Mr Blackford, I assume needed to go to the toilet during this journey and didn’t go in the car, as some journalists appear to think Dominic Cummings’ child should have. Nor did Mr Blackford go in the woods. I strongly suspect that he had a couple of meals in a service station.
When Mr Blackford travelled, he didn’t know if he had Covid. A lot of people who subsequently caught it such as Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock possibly talked to Mr Blackford – anyway there were lots of cases of Covid in those days in London and as far as I am aware none at all on Skye.
Did Mr Blackford consider that he might possibly spread Covid on his trip to Skye? He did. Apparently, he self-isolated from his family when he got there. If so, he must have thought that he could have been infectious.
Should the police throughout the UK demand to know what exactly Mr Blackford did to determine whether he correctly followed lockdown regulations all the way from London to Skye? No, of course not.
Cars do not spread Covid. They do not become sick by breathing in the smoke from their exhausts. It strikes me that Mr Blackford’s journey was reasonable. Why should he be separated from his family for months on end just because he happened to stay a day or so after lockdown? With normal care he could have avoided coming into close contact with workers at the service stations and other than that there was zero chance that he could infect anyone on his long journey home.
But if I were sitting in my house in Skye free to drive wherever I pleased on the island, I would be rather more considerate of others making similar journeys to the one that I had made. Mr Blackford after all did not need to go to Skye. He would have been safe and no doubt comfortable wherever he lives in London.
Under those circumstances I don’t think I would have been quite so vociferous in my criticism of English tourists who wanted to visit the Highlands. I likewise would not have been the first to pick up the stone that was thrown at Mr Cummings.
I would be surprised if a single SNP MP is still in London, perhaps I am wrong. But very many of them will have travelled back from London in a variety of ways to places that were at that time free from Covid. Did Angus MacNeil return to the Outer Hebrides? Did other SNP MPs return to remote communities? If so did they not realise that these communities were more at risk from Covid due to their MP’s return home than from anyone else?
Lots of people have faced dilemmas. I know of a son who travelled from the South of England to Northeast Scotland to rescue his mother who was unable to cope on her own. What he did was covered by the rules, but he would have gone even if it was not.
We are going to have to learn tolerance of each other’s mistakes. I think it is perfectly possible that the SNP decision to send elderly patients back to care homes will have led to more deaths than if there had been no lockdown at all. But it is necessary to remember that all Governments were under enormous pressure to empty hospital wards and that we didn’t know at that time that people could have Covid with no symptoms. We weren’t able to properly test even doctors and nurses let alone patients.
It is clear with hindsight that mistakes were made but would other politicians have made similar ones. Probably they would have.
Millions of us have broken lockdown. Girlfriends have stolen kisses from their boyfriends in every town and village in Britain though it would be hard to find a better way of passing on Covid. Politicians in a hurry and with limited information have made decisions that have cost lives.
We are not going to be able to keep up this level of anger about all those who have made mistakes. We cannot be so judgemental because there are too many of who bent or slightly broke the rules. We cannot live in a country where there is surveillance and a network of informers to ensure that we do what we are told, because that would turn us into China.
So, I am not going to condemn Mr Blackford, but I would suggest we all show a little more tolerance and understanding because we are going to face difficult decisions in the months ahead and some of us will make mistakes. Better by far if we all use our common sense and do the best we can to prevent the illness spreading. Let us not lose sight of the fact that it is this that matters, not whether Mr Blackford drove a little more than he should have to climb a mountain or if Dominic Cummings drove too far when he visited Barnard Castle.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.