Here’s the question we should all be asking at this stage in the Covid-19 crisis – how in the coming months (and maybe years) can we strike a healthy balance between security and liberty. And it needs to be addressed with special urgency in Scotland. Without waiting to see whether vaccines have broken the link between the virus and serious illness, the Sturgeon regime is paving the way to extend emergency lockdown laws to autumn 2022 – and possibly beyond. The First Minister seems quite content for the Corinavirus crisis to drag on indefinitely. Why not? Amongst other things, prolonging this ‘national emergency’ is a great pretext for the nation not getting to decide its future in an Indyref2. Still, almost all of us jist continue to don oor masks, keep oor heids doon and hope Nikla disnae gie us too hard a time. There will be no marching for personal or national freedom – under one or a hundred banners – because this is how freedom dies.
What’s been inflicted upon this country over the past 15 months is a previously unimaginable form of medical martial law. Yet the sole MSP who has reacted with proper concern to her Covid czar John Swinney’s announcement was a Conservative. Perhaps because he’s a lawyer and has given more thought than most to the need to balance security and liberty, Murdo Fraser commented: “The rush to extend so many emergency laws is alarming. It looks like the SNP are on a power trip.”
Power trip? SNP now stands for Scottish Nicola Party and its supremo has been on a power cruise for the past 14 years, first as deputy FM then as FM. Doubtless she was nodding with approval when her new best friend Dominic Cummings told the recent Commons inquiry that what was needed to deal with Covid was “a kind of dictator with kingly power” who would “push out the boundaries of legality”. The Murrells’ conjugal dictatorship was doing all of that – and worse – way before the Wuhan virus made its way to Scotland. Just one thing though, Dom: the Covid Queen would, of course, want ‘kingly’ changed to ‘queenly’ power.
Ms Sturgeon needs to face Lord Sumption. This retired senior Supreme Court judge knows an elected dictator when he sees one. Given that he castigated the UK government for “cavalier disregard for the limits of their legal powers”, it’s not hard to guess what he would make of an undistinguished solicitor from Dreghorn going even further than the blonde beast to strip Scots of their civil liberties. From the onset of the pandemic, Jonathan Sumption has lent immense intellectual respectability to the anti-lockdowners (although he flattered many of them when he observed that “lockdown scepticism goes with high levels of education.”) In a lecture at the onset of the pandemic, the law lord hit out at “the most significant interference with personal freedom in the history of our country.” And he hasn’t mellowed since. In an interview with the Telegraph a few days ago, he stated:
If you are going to do something as drastic as this, you need to know what the consequences are likely to be – that requires serious thought, serious research and serious planning. None of these things happened. The dominant factor in Government policy – the entire attack on our humanity – has been guided not by ‘The Science’ but by the desire of politicians to avoid being criticised.
Not for the first time, Lord Sumption proceeded to lambast attacks on “the entire spiritual dimension of our existence – the closure of schools, the closure of museums, theatres, churches, sports grounds.” Even in the Second World War, all of the above (along with pubs and picture halls) stayed open. We have also faced bigger public health emergencies in the past, as this law lord (originally a professional historian) is quick to highlight:
Covid-19 is towards the upper end of the kind of epidemic that humanity has had to cope with from the beginning of time. It is historically extreme and unusual. (But it) is at the more bearable end of what mankind has previously had to endure. The bubonic plague, for example, wiped out 40 per cent of the population. The Covid death rate is less than one per cent.
Why do we give next to no attention to that last fact – especially when the figure has now fallen to well under one per cent? Why have we become fixated on the number of cases of Covid-19 rather than the numbers in intensive care units or or other hospital wards with the virus? The dual purpose of lockdowns is meant to be saving lives and protecting the NHS. Neither appear to be critical causes for alarm in this country at present. Is that only because there’s always a lag between contamination and hospitalisation? Would it be dangerously complacent not to presume that the numbers being ferried in ambulances might rocket to an unmanageable level?
Conceivably, but I reckon we need to be shaken out of far greater complacency about the catastrophic effects of repeated lockdowns on lives, livelihoods and liberties. Especially the last of these because it gets insufficient attention in Sturgeon’s Scotland. Even at the height of the pandemic, we shouldn’t have been painting wee rainbows on our windows – which she seems to have seen as endorsement for her mad gender ideology – but pinning a famous quotation from Benjamin Franklin prominently on all our walls:
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
The fact so many of us have forgotten that is down, in part, to Labour: like his London overlord Keir Starmer, Anas Sarwar often sounds as though he would happily lock us all up in our homes indefinitely. Which might be painless for millionaires like him residing in a spacious Victorian villa in one of the leafy parts of Pollokshields. But this duo is playing a dangerous political game. Lord Sumption has a message for Messrs Starmer and Sarwar:
When democracy becomes a mechanism for mass coercion by governments, with the approval of the opposition, it is surely heading towards its end.
Naw, I’m not doing a Boris and saying let the bodies pile high in the southside of Glasgow. Nor can anyone with any sense argue that we are at the end of this emergency. But we need to start putting the pandemic into perspective. A calm and sober comparison of different countries’ data over a whole year shows no strong correlation between lockdown policies and deaths: Sweden and Switzerland had the most relaxed restrictions in Europe yet fewer excess deaths per million people than Spain, Belgium and the UK, which had the toughest clampdowns. What has mattered most has been the underlying health of the population, combined with the proportion of old people and the capacity of different health services to cope with a pandemic.
On the last of these points, why was capacity boosted by turning the SECC in Glasgow into a temporary Coronavirus hospital only to have that facility dismantled as soon as the number of Covid cases fell? Did we only need the NHS Louisa Jordan because Boris set up seven Florence Nightingale hospitals in England?
The Scottish Government must get a grip on itself and accept that Coronavirus is here to stay, in some variant or another, just like many other viruses. Our politicians need to stop going into a blind panic every time a light starts flashing on their data dashboard. The rate of spread of the virus is bound to fall as the number vaccinated continues to rise at the current impressive rate.
The reality is we’re almost all taking an unknowable risk by consenting to have some Pfizer or Astra Zeneca liquids squirted into our arms. None of these hastily developed vaccines has been subjected to the scale of testing normally deemed necessary for human safety. I say this having just had my second jab at Perth Ice Rink and feeling fairly wretched for the past four days. Nevertheless, even with these flu-like side effects, I have no regrets about letting a squaddie up from Preston stick the first needle in me. (Although I am starting to suspect the second one might have been a vial specially formulated for rebel Scottish bloggers).
Seriously, to return soon to any sort of normality, we must all get used to repeatedly weighing one set of risks against another. Most of all that applies to our governors. But, even at the best of times, the First Minister has always inclined towards excessive state surveillance and social engineering. From the ‘Named Persons’ scheme, which would have unleashed state guardians on families across the land, to the new hate laws making us watch what we say in our own homes, the SNP leader has shown she’s certainly nae libertarian. With her perturbing record in office, none of us should trust Nicola Sturgeon to strike a healthy balance between security and liberty.