There’s plenty to distract people. Ending lockdown. Not ending lockdown. Facemasks or not facemasks. The interminable glee of the British nationalists about divisions within the SNP. The constant harping on of certain independence supporters about Nicola Sturgeon. Should there be a new yes party. Should there not be a new yes party. But there’s only one debate that we should be having right now, and that is how come the UK is on course to be the worst affected European state when the British government had so much prior warning that the epidemic was on its way, and how we can put maximum pressure on Boris Johnson and the Conservatives in order to ensure that they remedy their failures.
But that’s not the debate we’re having. Yesterday the Scottish Government announced that it was recommending the use of face coverings in enclosed public spaces such as food shops or public transport where social distancing isn’t always possible. It’s a sensible measure which has already been introduced in some other European countries, Germany and the Czech Republic for example, and which many of the public have already adopted on their own initiative.
Face coverings do not provide total protection against the virus, no one is suggesting that they do, however there is reason to believe that their use will help to make the spread of the virus a bit more difficult. The wearer benefits, as there is a layer of fabric between their mouth and nostrils and the outside world which could potentially trap a droplet you were about to breathe in. Additionally wearing a face covering makes it difficult for you to touch your face directly after touching a surface which could possibly have the virus on it. This will also help to reduce the rate of transmission.
However the greatest potential benefit is amongst people who have the virus but who don’t have any symptoms or whose symptoms are so mild that they’ve not realised that they have it. Although they’re perfectly well and healthy, such people are still infectious and can unwittingly pass the virus on to other people. It’s thought that as many as 25% to 50% of people who become infected will show either extremely mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/50-percent-of-people-with-covid19-not-aware-have-virus Even amongst those who do go on to develop symptoms, there is evidence that they can be infectious for a couple of days before they do show symptoms and so go into self-isolation.
The benefit of a face covering in these cases is not primarily to protect the wearer, but to protect other people. The virus is carried in water droplets expelled during normal breathing out, sneezing, or coughing, and wearing a face mask will help to catch any virus carrying droplets which you might expel and thus keep those around you safe. It’s a social solidarity measure which could help to keep others safe and which can be carried out without causing any harm to the wearer.
Scotland is recognised as a distinct polity and society within the UK. That’s why we have a Scottish Parliament. We have distinctively Scottish laws. Devolution was established in the first place because even the British state was forced to recognise that Scotland is a nation and a society in its own right and the one size fits all policy of Westminster which is primarily designed to deal with England’s circumstances will not necessarily always be best for Scotland too.
However what we have seen time and time again during this crisis is that any attempt by the Scottish Government to respond to this emergency in a way which differs from Westminster is a British media which portrays it as a challenge to Westminster, as defiance of Boris Johnson, or as an attempt to undermine the British Government. That happened when Nicola Sturgeon announced that Scottish schools were to close. It happened when she announced that large gatherings should not take place after which City AM’s editor accused her of a “borderline coup d’etat” and Dan Hodges of the Mail harrumphed that she was “playing stupid political games”. It happened when the First Minister said that she wanted to treat the public as grown ups in discussions about when to come out of lockdown. We saw an outpouring of outrage from Conservatives over the weekend when Nicola Sturgeon said that if circumstances demanded it she could conceiveably ask Westminster for the power to close the Scottish border. They even denied that that Scottish border existed at all. And there was yet more faux British nationalist victimhood seeking again yesterday when she made the announcement about face coverings.
After she made the announcement, Tom Newton Dunn, the political editor of the Sun newspaper tweeted that if this announcement was not a concerted attempt to embarrass Westminster, it was having that effect anyway. Everything that the Scottish Government does which is not simply the sheepish following of Westminster’s lead is framed by the British media as a deliberate attempt by the SNP to drive a wedge between Scotland and England. That’s how paranoid and insecure they are.
If this were simply a question of the laughable insecurity of British nationalists, it would merely be a source of amusement for independence supporters. But it’s more serious than that. By framing any distinctively Scottish response to the crisis as a cynical political ploy to undermine the British Government, the British media legitimises and validates those in Scotland who don’t wish to adhere to the Scottish Government’s recommendations and advice.
As we all know, Scotland is not an independent country, and it doesn’t have an independent media either. The Scottish Government is faced with attempting to deal with this emergency while the bulk of the media in Scotland is determined to persecute it for any divergence from the Westminster line. Yet as we have all seen the UK is on course to become the worst affected state in Europe. Now if the Scottish Government was proposing far less restrictive measures than Westminster was, perhaps the British media in Scotland would have a point. But the Scottish Government isn’t doing that. At every step along the way the Scottish Government has proposed stricter measures than the British Government, or has sought to implement measures more quickly than the British Government.
Tied as we are the overall policies of the British state, anything that can be done to save lives and keep people safe ought to be lauded. Instead we have a media which is so terrified of independence, and so terrified of the anger that there will be against Westminster’s woeful mishandling of this emergency once we have got through it, that it’s desperate to demonise and undermine the public health decisions of the Scottish Government. That’s dangerous and irresponsible. They are preventing us from having the debate that we really ought to be having, because they are far more interested in protecting the British state from the consequences of its own failure.
At some point after the immediate emergency has passed, people will get back to the only debate we need to have, and they will conclude that they’ve been let down by both the British state, and the British media. Their own hatred of the SNP and their panic to attack anything that smacks of “separatism” will be their undoing.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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