The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. Since then, we have seen a lot of calls for the Scottish Government to take a vastly different approach from the UK Government. This is understandable, considering the worry and stress that we are all under and the lack of trust in PM Boris. People like me, who support independence for various reasons and who have underlying health conditions, find it hard to trust the decisions of the UK Government. In this article, I will try to look at the reality and remove emotion as much as possible. The question I shall be addressing is “Can Scotland adopt a different response to COVID-19?”
I believe that with our current membership of the union, we can’t really. It is the political reality that we are in. With the current way the UK is structured, all the Scottish Government can do is tinker at the edges and manage the plan better. However, the plan really can’t change that much and here is why.
Firstly, the Scottish Parliament doesn’t have the powers to do many of the things that people are calling for. This is shown up by the fact that the Scottish Government could only put out an advisory notice to stop gatherings of 500 people. As they don’t have the power to ban these gatherings, that rests with Westminster.
Secondly, we have heard people call for Scotland to close its borders. The Scottish Government don’t have the power to do this. Some say we should simply ignore this and do it in any case. It would play very badly with the general public who would see it as the Scottish Government playing constitutional games in a health crisis.
Thirdly, we have heard calls for total lockdown. Again, the Scottish Government don’t have the powers to do this and even if they did, can you put a lockdown in place without massive financial help for the public, who will not be able to work due to the lockdown? An independent country can put together packages to help its civilians financially get through this. However, our membership of the union means we rely on pocket money to manage devolved matters. We need to recognise that areas like employment law is totally in Westminster’s hands. So, a standalone shutdown in Scotland is just not feasible I am afraid, without the backing of the UK government.
A fourth point I’d like to make is that the Media advice must be clear and simply here in Scotland, we are bombarded daily with TV news designed for an English audience. 24-hour Sky News, BBC News 24, morning TV, News at 6 and 10, are all feeding news aimed at most of their viewers. So, what we would have is Scottish viewers being bombarded with health advice which is totally out of step with the Scottish Government’s advice. The Scottish Governments advice would be drowned out and we would have chaos with mixed messaging. Mixed messaging in a health crisis would be terrible, dangerous, and render a massively different approach in Scotland impossible. We will just have to face that until we are an independent country, we will always be limited in what we can do. The Scottish Government will have to play a balancing act with the powers that it has.
To conclude, it does not sit naturally with us that we are having to follow the UK approach and we are sure it does not sit comfortably with the Scottish Government. But the reality with current powers is that we are rather hamstrung and in truth, if we really want to do things differently, we know the answer.
This is a highly worrying time and the independence movement has fantastic people in it. It has people who are experienced in organizing events and people. We ask you to use these skills to help your local community.
By Alan Petrie