Anybody who is trying to use the immediate challenges we face in tackling this virus, or to twist what I say in relation to some of these issues to make any kind of pre-existing, political or constitutional point, will not find me willing to play ball. Rigorous scrutiny of the decisions @scotgov is taking is both appropriate and essential – but simply trying to shoehorn these issues into our pre-existing political debates and positions doesn’t help tackle the virus.Nicola Sturgeon
Is Nicola Sturgeon really so naive as to suppose that a public health crisis can be completely divorced from politics? Or that political and constitutional points can be mutually irrelevant? I rather doubt it. I suspect she is well aware that there is no aspect of life which is not intimately and irrevocable bound up with politics. And that there is no part of politics that does not impinge on some aspect of life. It is unimaginable that she could fail to recognise that, just as politics permeates our lives, so the constitution overarches and enfolds all of our politics.
Nicola Sturgeon is an astute and highly experienced politician. As a political operator, she is undoubtedly outshone by her predecessor. But that leaves her plenty of scope for putting into practice whatever tricks she may have picked up. As the former, she will know full well that absolutely everything in life is political. As I wrote in an article for iScot Magazine,
It’s not that politics intrudes on all of life. All of life is politics. We are all ‘doing politics’ all the time. Human society is a matrix of power relationships. All human interactions, at every level from the interpersonal through the familial and the communal to the international, are transactions conducted in the currency of power and mediated by a process which is the same throughout, even if we are accustomed to calling it ‘politics’ only when we get to the more collective levels of social organisation.Politics is personal
Nicola Sturgeon knows this. Of that we can be fully confident. She could not have achieved what she has were she in any confusion about the true nature of politics. As a political operator, however, she may be motivated to pretend that she is as naive as described above. The expediencies of various situations may prompt her to speak and act as if she actually supposes politicians can and should be can be apolitical in the midst of a public health crisis. Sometimes, the pretence of credulousness can be disturbingly convincing. As in when she thought to put the constitutional issue on hold for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic. She really seemed to believe that this was both possible and wise. Let’s hope it was all an act.
The pretending – or role-playing – is but a device for attacking opponents. By acting as if the constitution has nothing to do with politics and politics nothing to do with a public health crisis she can condemn and hopefully silence those who are foolish enough to provide her with ammunition. Yes, Carlaw! We’re talking about you!
Because Nicola Sturgeon pretends doesn’t mean that we have to. Democracy works better the more people are educated about how it works and informed about how it is working. We are better citizens for developing our understanding of the ways of politics and awareness of the facts and arguments around political issues. Better citizens make a better society. The public heath crisis must be political because dealing with it necessitates political choices. Managing the response involves political decisions. By which I don’t just mean choices and decisions made by politicians but choices and decisions informed in significant measure by plainly political considerations.
And what is the constitution about if not the question of who makes political decisions; how political decisions are made, and what political considerations are legitimate. The matter of closing the border is only one instance of political decision-making. It may seem trivial to some if they fail to recognise that it stands as metonym for all political decision-making. Debate about where ultimate power lies or should lie in relation to closing the border is a proxy for debate about where ultimate power lies in all matters. It represents and illustrates the dichotomy between those who maintain that the exclusive source of legitimate political authority – such as the authority to close the nation’s borders – derives from a divinely-ordained monarch (or the descendants thereof) and those who adhere to the fundamental democratic principle that the only source of legitimate political authority is the people.
The current crisis is a public policy concern. Managing the response brings into play relationships of power. It is political. It is constitutional. It cannot be otherwise. Nicola Sturgeon knows this. And so should we.
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