by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Much is being made of the North Shropshire By-Election result, and there’s no doubt it is historic in terms of the loss of one of the Tories’ safest seats. Whether it heralds the end of Boris Johnson, I’m not so sure. For one thing, only a fool would want to be Prime Minister at this point in time, and for another there is no General Election in sight, so there is, as yet, no need for the knives to come out. We should also bear in mind that Johnson is in charge of probably the most corrupt Government in UK history; certainly the most blatant in its corruption. And the people who have benefitted the most are the Tory MPs and their pals, so they’re not going to be in a rush to kill the golden goose.

It does seem, though, that the fiasco of the Tory Xmas Parties has got through to voters in England in a way that their actual policies have not. Perhaps that explains a little about why the Tories keep winning in England when it comes to General elections. English voters don’t seem to mind harmful policies as long as the Government enacts them in a sober and responsible manner.

Despite this stunning By-Election result, I fully expect the Tories to win the next General election as well, although possibly with another leader. Not that the leader matters a great deal. As I’ve said many times, Boris Johnson is not the real problem; he is merely a symptom of the problem. He’s a massively harmful symptom, but whoever replaces him will inevitably pursue similar policies, perhaps with not quite so much blatant corruption on display, although we should be in no doubt that underhand goings-on will continue behind the scenes.

Where does all of this leave Scotland? Quite frankly, it makes no difference. It’s like watching politics in a foreign country. The problem for us is that the foreign country in question controls our own country. If Scotland was a normal, self-governing country, I’d wager Nicola Sturgeon would have been much stronger in her responses to the Omicron Covid surge. There are some things she could do within existing powers which I’m disappointed not to see. For example, I think schools should be closed now because the statistics from other countries, notably the USA and South Africa, show that children in the 5 to 9 age group are particularly susceptible to Omicron Covid, and many suffer severe infections. Closing the schools a week early would reduce the impact of this outbreak.

I’d also liked to have seen her make working from home a law rather than advice. I know of at least one Tory-supporting employer who has told his staff that they will only be allowed to work from home if it becomes law. This is despite almost his entire staff working from home successfully during the first lock down.

At the risk of sounding too authoritarian, I also think it would help if mask-wearing was enforced more vigorously. While some people do have legitimate reasons for not wearing a mask, it really is not at all onerous for the vast majority of us. I was talking to a lady in the USA the other day (I’m afraid I didn’t ask her which State she lived in), and she told me that enforcement is vigorous where she lives. Buses will not allow anyone to board unless they are wearing a mask, and the bus will stop if the driver becomes aware of anyone taking their mask off. In shops, people are refused admittance or, in smaller stores, refused service unless they are wearing a mask. Some people may consider these sorts of measures Draconian, but really all they are doing is compelling people to have some consideration for those around them, and I do believe they would help curtail the spread. As for those who object that this is an authoritarian approach, some of us are old enough to remember the outcry when seat belt wearing was made compulsory in the UK. Many people insisted it was an infringement of their right to endanger their own lives, and there were some prosecutions in the early days. Nowadays, pretty much everyone wears a seat belt without even thinking about it. Mask wearing in public could do with that same attitude applying.

Having said that, there is a lot more that could be done if Scotland had control over its finances and used its own currency. If we were a normal country, then the hospitality sector could be recompensed for the loss of business they are experiencing. Furlough could also be re-introduced to help keep other workers safe until the worst of the outbreak has been tackled.

Sick Pay is another area where far more could be done. Due to the UK’s low wage economy, far too many people are compelled to go to work because they cannot afford to be off sick. The irony of this is that, by going to work, they increase the risk of becoming very ill indeed. The UK’s Sick Pay is pathetically inadequate, and I’d like to think that an independent Scotland could pay a much higher rate which could be increased temporarily even further during the Covid pandemic.

Unfortunately, without those powers which most countries take for granted, we are stuck with meekly following the Tory path to more deaths than necessary. So far, Nicola Sturgeon has been careful not to point an accusing finger at Westminster, but perhaps it is time she began letting people know just how much her hands are tied. I suspect, however, that she is wary of being seen as a Grinch who wants to impose restrictions which other parts of the UK aren’t bothering with. Again, this demonstrates one of the problems of the UK. Unionists and the media always try to portray the UK as a single country, and a great many people believe it because they have been constantly told it is a fact. But if Scotland were a normal country, we could impose our own Border restrictions on anyone coming in from other countries, including a period of quarantine. At the moment, that is impossible because we have no control over our Borders, and because the infrastructure of the UK is such that Scotland is far too reliant on food and other goods arriving via England. Without our own direct trade routes to the wider world, we are exposed to the importation of Omicron and any future variants of Covid because of this reliance on traffic coming via England.

It is, of course, very easy to blame the constitutional arrangement for pretty much anything, and there is no saying that an independent Scotland would get things right in tackling Covid. But, quite frankly, could they do any worse than the bumbling buffoon that is Boris Johnson and his band of ideologues? I do think the Scottish Government could do a bit more with the powers they have, but they could do a huge amount more if they had full control, and much of that could be in ensuring that the livelihoods of people affected by any Covid restrictions are not impacted too severely. Nicola Sturgeon is currently attempting to persuade Boris Johnson to make additional funds available to cushion the impact of restrictions. I wish her luck, but I doubt she will have much success. And, of course, if the Clown in Chief does make more money available, it will be trumpeted as yet another Union dividend. If that happens, I hope Nicola Sturgeon points out the absurdity of any nation needing to go cap in hand to its larger neighbour just to allow it to do what almost every other country in the world can do without any problems.