A long time ago back in a lost and distant past when people still thought that the British Government was headed by serious people, even if we disagreed with those people viscerally, the notion that the prime aim of that Government was to keep the population safe from threats was widespread – and for the most part unchallenged. It was axiomatic that an independent Scotland would no longer enjoy the protection of the British state, and this was one of the main reasons why the idea of independence was not a mainstream one in Scottish politics. So much has changed. So many veils have fallen from our eyes.
The naked materialism of the Conservatives has been exposed by this epidemic. It was always there, lurking under a thin veneer of right wing populist British nationalism and disguised by bunting, flags, military parades and royal occasions, but the current crisis has exposed what is really important to the Tories. It is now as it has always been their bank accounts and their wealth.
As the seriousness of the epidemic became evident, many people in the UK were prepared to trust the British Government to do the right thing. They put ideological and political differences aside. But those people were betrayed by the Conservatives. The British Government toyed with the idea of herd immunity. It introduced lockdown too late, causing thousands of unnecessary deaths. It casually disregarded its own rules when it came to protecting Dominic Cummings, cynically rewriting the regulations to suit itself and making a mockery of the sacrifices of millions. And now it is lifting lockdown prematurely in England, when that country still has a significant death toll and infection rate, in order to protect the financial interests of the Conservatives’ backers.
On Monday, as she spoke to the press during her daily press briefing – the daily briefings that the British Government has abandoned – Nicola Sturgeon told us with relief that there had been no deaths from covid-19 in Scotland over the weekend. That’s now four days in a row without anyone losing their life to the virus in Scotland. Progress is being made, but that progress seems to be despite the British Government rather than with its assistance. It’s a fragile and delicate progress, and can easily be derailed by factors beyond the control of the Scottish Government. One of the biggest and most dangerous of those factors is the crass insouciance of the British Government towards further deaths from the virus.
The First Minister told the press that there have been no UK COBRA meetings for weeks. That means that there has been little in the way of planning and coordination at the highest level of the British Government. That same British Government introduces changes to policy which have a direct impact upon Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and the English regions without informing the relevant authorities in those places. There was no consultation with the Scottish Government when the British Government decided to introduce so-called airbridges with other countries, allowing people to travel without quarantine restrictions.
The British Government is willing to allow the virus to circulate in the population, whereas the Scottish Government is aiming at eliminating the virus as much as is possible. Those two goals are mutually exclusive. It’s the Scottish Government which is trying to keep us safe, and British nationalists resent it.
The thing about the Conservatives is that they’ve always been quite happy with risk as long as they can make other people suffer the consequences of Tory failure. What the Tories mean by keeping you safe is that they’re perfectly happy for you to contract a virus that can cause a life threatening disease as long as the number of cases isn’t going to overwhelm the NHS. It’s up to you to avoid the virus and keep safe from it, the Tories don’t see it as the job of government to protect you. In their eyes it’s certainly not the job of government to keep the public safe if that means risking their financial interests. Private property and private wealth come first and foremost for the Conservatives, even if it means you die. They’re a party which is happy for the kids to play on the motorway as long as there’s space in the hospital when the kids get hit by a lorry and there’s no disruption to the businesses that generate wealth for the party’s influential donors and backers. It’s a casual lack of care for other people’s lives, a lack of concern for how the actions that are beneficial to the Conservatives and their backers affect others. It’s the selfishness that rules the party, a selfishness that is killing people.
One reason for the Conservatives’ lack of concern is that they enjoy an 80 seat majority in the House of Commons and a Westminster General Election is a long way off. They hope that by the end of 2024 when the next General Election is due that the public will have moved on. We now live in a UK where General Elections are the only means available to hold the government to account, and those elections are imperfect and deeply flawed – allowing as they do a party like the Tories who won 43% of the popular vote to win a crushing absolute majority of seats in the Commons. That undemocratic system suits both the Tories and the Labour party. Labour only pays lip service to radical change when it’s out of office.
In Scotland we have an election due much sooner, in less than a year. We can hold the Tories to account. We can make sure that they suffer the consequences of the risks that they’re happy to inflict upon other people, poorer people, people without the resources and safety nets of the rich and the powerful. And we can make sure that Scotland votes to leave this dystopian mess of selfishness, greed, and avarice. Keeping the people of this country safe depends upon it.
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