Unnecessary words and rightful anger

The decision by the Voices for Scotland board to “pause” their campaign during the Covid-19 crisis has served only to reignite my anger at Nicola Sturgeon’s cease and desist order to the SNP membership and the Yes movement. It is a decision which is disappointing if not deplorable. It is a choice which would almost certainly been very different had our First Minister not been so inadequate and inept in her role as de facto leader of the independence campaign. She has an army of apologists, of course. None of whom seem to understand how badly she has betrayed Scotland’s cause. Precious few who are prepared to listen to any criticism of someone who, I regret to say, is at the centre of what looks more and more like a cult of personality. I am not a member of that cult. I’m just angry.

Voices for Scotland (VfS) is, as you may know, one of the brands used by the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) in its ongoing fund-raising campaign to finance various initiatives such as the launch of VfS. Initiatives which in one of those strange quirks of fate that make life such a wild ride have tended to coincide with the SNP administration’s need for the launch of some new initiative to divert attention from its own lack of any initiative in taking forward the independence project. That they have “paused” their campaigning – although not, apparently, their fundraising – probably isn’t the most massive misfortune to befall the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. Nor is their unquestioning compliance with Nicola Sturgeon’s order to stop all campaigning the most shocking thing to happen in Scottish politics of late. Although the order itself might well qualify for that title.

SIC has always been one of those organisations or groups by which the SNP and the Scottish Government have kept the Yes movement at arms length. That is its main purpose. The SIC sits between the SNP and the Yes movement to provide the appearance of connection while actually serving as a barrier/buffer. That it has stopped doing what it was that it had been doing won’t affect the independence campaign at all. The fact that it has been encouraged to abandon whatever part it was playing in that campaign by Nicola Sturgeon is the real scandal here. That is what people should be angry about.

To understand the politics of this and why it should make you angry you have to forget about Covid-19. The pandemic has nothing to do with it. It is marginally and tangentially relevant at best. The political situation was in train long before the virus came on the scene. It has played a role. But it was never essential to the way things were playing out. If it hadn’t been Covid-19 it would have been something else. The virus was written into the script while shooting was in progress because the plot required a plausible enabler for one of the main characters. It may seem strange to think of it in this way but, as far as this episode of the Scottish politics show is concerned, Covid-19 just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

When Covid-19 arrived on set the independence project was already at a standstill. At least, I like to think it was at a standstill. Being stalled would have been a great improvement given that the project had mostly been going backwards since 2014. The moment Nicola Sturgeon committed wholly and irrevocably to the Section 30 process, the project was doomed. Committing to the Section 30 process was probably the surest way of killing the independence project stone dead. It could not possibly lead to a new referendum. It was never going to work. It was always obvious that it was never going to work. Not even the people who supported it could explain how it might work. The people responsible for committing to it, including Nicola Sturgeon, steadfastly refused to answer any questions about the Section 30 process. They totally ignored those who expressed concerns about it other than to berate and belittle them. At no time did any of them ever address any of those concerns. Every effort was made to close down any discussion of the matter.

Why did Nicola Sturgeon commit to the Section 30 process? Was she unaware of the fact that it was both a dead end and a trap? That seems unlikely. She is not stupid. And there was nothing unclear or uncertain about the nature of the Section 30 process. The huge dead-end signs and the flashing neon arrows with the word TRAP were there as clues. And if that wasn’t enough to mark it as a very bad choice indeed then there was the fact that the British political elite had dubbed it the ‘gold standard’. Nicola Sturgeon must have known what she was getting into. What she was getting us into. What she was getting Scotland into. So, why?

These things are rarely amenable to simple explanation. When it comes to human behaviour and motivation, any explanation that is simple enough to be described in words probably doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the matter. We cannot know what was going on in Nicola Sturgeon’s mind. But we can deduce some of what must have had an influence on her thinking. We must assume, for example, that independence was a consideration. But it wouldn’t be the only one. Two other considerations come immediately to my mind. Which suggests they may very well have occurred to Nicola Sturgeon as well.

She would surely have to take account of the SNP’s electoral fortunes. She’s leader of the party. The party must always be a consideration. And it would be extraordinary to the point of freakishness had she not given some thought to her own reputation and political career. These and doubtless numerous other factors would all be fed into the calculation which resulted in the decision to commit to the Section 30 process. My own sense of the thing is that there was a powerful conflict between what was best for the independence project and what best served Sturgeon’s personal ambitions. The interests of the party weren’t decisive. The SNP’s electoral position was unusually secure. Pretty much any choice she made could be argued to be either good or bad in terms of the party’s electoral chances.

My suspicion is that the dilemma was resolved by Nicola Sturgeon persuading herself and/or allowing herself to be persuaded that the Section 30 process might work. All the talk of Boris Johnson’s position be “unsustainable” sounded ludicrous to those of us who were watching him sustain it with consummate ease and nary a hint of being affected by the “pressure” which was supposed to force him to relent. The constant repetition of the “untenable” and “unsustainable” mantra by a battery of SNP big guns never sounded convincing. But it did sound utterly convinced. They believed it because the alternative was to go against Nicola Sturgeon. And that was unthinkable. Almost literally unthinkable.

Of course, it was going to be increasingly difficult to maintain the conviction in the face of unfolding non-events. As the promised collapse of the British state’s resistance to democracy neither happened nor looked remotely likely so it became increasingly problematic to maintain the insistence that it would – eventually. Although nobody could ever say why it might. Nobody could ever explain what it was costing Boris Johnson to say no as often and as long as was required. More and more voices were raised expressing concerns. More and more people were asking awkward questions. Nicola Sturgeon had no answers. She had no plan. She had no route mapped because there were no more options. No way out. She needed something that would eclipse the constitutional issue. She needed somewhere to put the blame for the project having totally stalled rather than have it all lying on her own shoulders.

Along came Covid-19!

Whatever else it is -and we all know what else it is well enough that we don’t need pompous, self-righteous reminders – the pandemic was just what Nicola Sturgeon needed. Politicians exploit situations. Whether you approve or not, it’s what happens. Deal with it!

Nicola Sturgeon had her justification for setting aside the independence project. And it was a good one. Nobody could possibly blame her for making the pandemic the Scottish Government’s main priority. Nobody does blame her for making the pandemic her first priority. I certainly don’t. I’m not stupid. I know full well that she had no choice in the matter. That the pandemic also happened to be politically convenient is entirely incidental. But for Covid-19 she would have had to find another excuse. I don’t doubt that she would. I can’t imagine that it would be better than the one fate dropped in her lap.

Let me repeat this because it is something Nicola Sturgeon’s apologists have great difficulty comprehending. A difficulty which, it must be said, is almost as convenient for their argument as Covid-19 is for Nicola Sturgeon’s political credibility. It is not the fact that in her role as First Minister she put the constitutional issue aside which I find objectionable. It was the right thing to do. What angers me is that she compounded her catastrophic handling of the constitutional issue by issuing that cease and desist order in her role as leader of the SNP.

In part, I was angered by the presumptuousness of her assuming command of the Yes movement. Having utterly failed/refused to provide the leadership the Yes movement craved and required to progress the independence campaign, she had the impertinence to appoint herself leader for the purpose of ordering a halt to the campaign. That rankles!

But what really angers me is that it was totally unnecessary. She didn’t have to say anything at all about the independence campaign. It would have been very much better if she had simply shut up about it. After all, she had ‘more important’ things to occupy her mind. Why was she talking about the independence campaign? Let Jackson Carlaw raise the subject. Let him provide the First Minister with another opportunity to slap him down for obsessing about independence at a time like this. But no! She had to issue a statement which included the following.

Obviously for our movement, that means suspending all campaigning – cancelling any planned social events and meetings must only be held if using remote technologies. [emphasis added]

This was contained in an email sent to SNP members but which was also made public. It is important to not that the email bore not only the SNP logo but the YES logo as well. The clear implication is that she is addressing the entire independence movement. That she is telling us all to stop any and all campaign activity. Why?

My suspicion is that she just got carried away with the role she was playing – that of ‘leader in time of crisis’. A role which was, of course, forced on her by circumstances. But a role that she could play as she sees fit. At least as much as she was concerned to look competent to the electorate in Scotland, she wanted to look good far a much wider audience. She was behaving as she thought was expected of her according to a model which owed at least as much to West Wing as to the realities of Scottish politics. When this political posing combined with her relief at having escaped the bind she had got herself into with the constitutional issue she overplayed her role. Had she been wise, or well-advised, she would have said nothing whatever about the independence campaign. But she just couldn’t help herself.

The political inadvisability of Nicola Sturgeon’s cease and desist letter to activists should be obvious to anyone who understands political communication. By issuing that instruction; by effectively declaring herself to be in charge of the entire independence movement, she has taken responsibility for the entire independence movement. She has made herself answerable for everything done by anyone in the movement. The very situation she had been so assiduously avoiding for years. That order to suspend all campaigning will come back to bite her in lots of different ways. It was a stupid thing to do. And that is what makes me angry.

It was also another entry in the catalogue of missed opportunities that Nicola Sturgeon has built up since 2014. Anyone who gives it even a passing thought must recognise that the lockdown presents the ideal conditions for online campaigning. Which happens to be one of the great strengths of the Yes movement. Instead of taking advantage of the fact that more people are accessing material online for longer, Nicola Sturgeon would have thousands of very capable activists sitting idle. We’re not all occupied dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, very few of us are. As few as possible. That’s what lockdown means. Thousands of Yes activists suddenly have more time on their hands than they know what to do with.

Groups like Voices for Scotland should be taking advantage of this situation. The entire Yes movement should be adapting to the new reality. We don’t have to be thinking about Covid-19 every minute of every day. Every one of us with a device and a connection could be contributing to the most massive organically coordinated online campaign ever known. If Nicola Sturgeon had just said nothing about the independence campaign this would almost certainly have happened. I have every right to be angry.



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The wrong voters

We urgently need to track down the 44% who don’t agree that the lockdown should have started sooner and isolate them from the sane people. Perhaps they could be used for testing new Covid-19 vaccines. It seems a shame to use animals when there is a ready supply of non-sentient creatures with human-like metabolisms. At least there would be no concerns about brain damage. The brains of those who suppose action wasn’t belated and inadequate could be put in a blender without any noticeable reduction in cognitive capacity. If intelligence was a virus these folk would have natural immunity.

It’s plainly obvious that the response was too little too late! It was a political response to a medical emergency. Which is on a par with calling Sky customer services when you’re having a stroke. Asking politicians to deal with a health crisis makes no more sense than asking the BBC to deal with a complaint. When a potentially massive public health crisis looms you want the first question to be how do we deal with this? Not how do I come out of this looking good or, failing that, at least avoid taking the blame? You want the first thought to be about what is logistically possible. Not what is politically acceptable. You want the main concern to be the headcount in the mortuary. Not the headlines in the tabloids.

No question about the timing or magnitude of the response Covid-19 makes any sense because there is only one sensible answer. The response had to be instant and total. If minimising the impact on the population was the priority, rather than the impact on political careers and party fortunes, then the appropriate response was the response that was always going to be the response that was politically unacceptable. The effectiveness of the response might be gauged from the amount of outrage it provoked.

Immediate and total quarantine is the only way to prevent a pandemic. Every direct contact between two people is an opportunity for the virus to be communicated. An unknowable number of indirect contacts also present an unquantifiable risk. Complete isolation of every infectable individual for a period of perhaps four weeks offers a good chance of stopping the disease becoming pandemic. You don’t have to be an epidemiologist to recognise this. You don’t have to be any kind of scientist. All that’s needed is a functioning intellect.

I can already hear people snorting derisively as they dismiss the foregoing on the grounds that this kind of mass isolation is impossible to achieve. Which totally misses the point. When dealing with something of this nature it is folly to start by asking how little you can get away with doing now with a view to escalating as circumstances demand. The challenge is to get as close as possible to that situation of total quarantine as quickly as possible. This implies a calculation which, like any calculation, is formulated differently depending on who is making the calculation.

Politicians will make a political calculation. Scientists will make a scientific calculation. Economists will make an economic calculation. The public, as a mob, will make a calculation based on inadequate information, dumb prejudice, utter selfishness and TV schedules. That same public, as a mob, then elects the politicians.

Are you beginning to see the problem? The 44% of adults who don’t agree the lockdown should have started sooner nonetheless get to vote.



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The National interest

Along with Thursday 18 September 2014, Monday 24 November that same year is one of those dates which are significant enough to have lodged in my increasingly unreliable memory. It is the day The National launched in a nation still thrumming with the democratic power that was so tragically squandered.

The National’s masthead proudly declared it to be,

THE NEWSPAPER THAT SUPPORTS AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND

It still does. It still is. It remains the only newspaper that speaks for an aspiration shared by around half of Scotland’s people. The aspiration to restore Scotland’s independence. The hope and determination to free Scotland from an imposed political union contrived over three centuries ago for the purpose of subordinating this nation and its sovereign people to the will and the interests of an emerging imperialist British state. It still is such a political union. It still does what it was designed to do. It remains an insufferable blight on Scotland.

I was recently reminded of the editorial in that first edition of The National. Written by the newspaper’s founding editor, Richard Walker, it included the following

During the referendum campaign, it became clear that there is a democratic deficit in terms of the Scottish media. The raison d’etre of the National is to redress the balance and cogently to argue the case for independence.

More than five years later, the democratic deficit in terms of the Scottish media is, if anything, greater than it was then. Unquestionably, there is an even greater need now for a newspaper which supports Scotland’s cause. We need The National. Scotland needs The National.

And now The National needs us. If we wish to have a national newspaper that is truly Scottish in its outlook; a newspaper that offers an alternative to the view from inside the British media bubble; a newspaper that presents the news from a Scottish perspective, then we must ensure that The National survives the current difficulties. Because, if The National fails it is extremely unlikely that there will ever be such a newspaper again. We will never again have a newspaper that supports Scottish independence.

Even if you are sometimes irritated by the way The National covers a topic; even if you occasionally disagree with the line taken on a particular issue; even if The National tends to fall somewhat short of your own ideal for a Scottish newspaper, you have to support The National because without it there is no hope of ever achieving that ideal. It is not, in any case, the job of The National to pander to some purist notion of of Scotland’s cause. The National exists, as Richard Walker said in that first edition, to redress as far as one newspaper can the appalling imbalance in the media in Scotland. Anything which does this to any degree is doing a great service to both the independence movement and the Scottish nation.

It is through its media that a nation presents itself to the world. But a nation also sees itself through its media. If what Scotland sees of itself through the distorting lens of the British media is what Scotland believes itself to be, then Scotland is a nation impoverished and inadequate and unworthy in every way. The National matters, not because it lets us see ourselves as others see us, but because it allows us at least a glimpse of what we really are – and what we might be. To lose The National now would be like losing ones sight again a few years after having it restored.

The National needs you to take out a digital subscription. That is all. I can personally testify to the quality of The National’s digital edition. Even in normal times when it’s possible to pop down to the shop to buy a copy, it’s great to have that digital edition there on your phone, tablet or computer first thing in the morning. I still get the hard copy whenever possible. Or rather my wife does. The digital edition can either replace or augment the traditional newspaper. It is a good thing!

This is the bit where I’m supposed to give you all that pish about how I know times are hard and people are struggling and blah! blah! blah! I won’t! I decline to be so condescending. If you are in such dire financial straits as to be unable to afford a digital subscription to The National then it’s for sure you don’t need me to tell you. Nor do I imagine you place much value on my sympathy; or any value at all on threadbare platitudes. My plea is to anyone who can possibly manage it, even at some tolerable personal sacrifice, to help preserve something which is more than just a newspaper. More than just the light by which we see through the murk of British Nationalist propaganda. More than just the true mirror in which we see our nation reflected.

More than all of this, The National is a token of our self-respect in a Union which allows us none. It is a symbol of the defiance which has for centuries has held out against efforts to subsume Scotland into initially an imperialist ‘Greater England’ and latterly an equally alien right-wing British state. It is the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland.



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Toby Young is right! But…

Trickle down economicsTejvan Pettinger

Looking for a representative example of a left-wing commentator’s response to Toby Young’s treatise on the dispensability of old people to which I might refer I lighted upon Kevin McKenna’s column in The National. I could hardly have chosen better. I could hardly have chosen worse. Better, if what was wanted was a heartfelt polemic on the heartlessness of a socio-economic system which supposing itself entirely rational blithely embraces the unreasonable. Worse, if what was required was an even vaguely rational critique of that system’s unreasonableness.

Don’t get me wrong! I gladly accept – nay insist! – that there is a place for emotion in politics. Politics is about people, essentially. People have emotions. They function on the basis of their emotions as well as their intellect. We may not always get the balance right, but we tend to recognise it when we do. The point at which heart and head find a semblance of balance we call ‘reasonable’. The effort to find that point we call ‘reasonableness’. It stands to reason, therefore, that a political philosophy which seeks to exclude intuition in favour of calculation must forfeit some part of it’s reasonableness. Its relevance to real people in the real world must be questionable at best.

To my mind, attempts to purge our politics of human feelings and instincts have diminished it and us. Ironically, it has left us with a politics of fear – the most powerful of all emotions. Subtract from the sum of what makes us human that which we dream of and you are left only with what we’re afraid of. Every great social reform began with a dream. All social progress has historically been driven by aspiration and hope. No great or positive change was ever born of fear. If progressive politics has slowed, stopped or been reversed – as might well be argued – it is because we have disconnected our politics from our dreams. We have descended into a politics in which to be called a dreamer is to be degraded, diminished and dismissed.

When Alex Salmond referred to the restoration of Scotland’s independence as the dream that will never die he triggered ridicule and revulsion in those disposed to regard dreams as a political disease. But his words touched something in the hearts and minds of people who, consciously of otherwise, long for a society which has a place for dreamers and a politics which has space for dreams. I suspect Toby Young falls into the former category and Kevin McKenna the latter. I am more likely to be found in Mr McKenna’s virtual company than Mr Young’s. But I might not be entirely comfortable in either.

I haven’t read the article in which Toby Young argues inter alia that “Spending £350 billion to prolong the lives of a few hundred thousand mostly elderly people is an irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money”. But I certainly recognise the ideology which informs such sentiments – if that word can be applied other than sardonically. I have to say that I agree with the sentiment, even as I deplore the lack of sentimentality. Toby Young’s statement is essentially correct. But, taken literally, it is quite unreasonable.

Before I explain my own response to Toby Young’s remark I have to comment on the way Kevin McKenna has reacted as, unfortunately, I suspect it will be fairly typical of the reaction of those on the left of Scottish politics. Where Toby Young’s attitude – as exemplified by that one remark – is unreasonable because it eschews emotion, Kevin McKenna’s response is unreasonable because it abandon’s reason almost entirely in favour of something approaching hysterical mawkishness.

Let’s start with the claim that “it’s possible, even at this stage, to divine two distinct currents of thought emerging amid our attempts to extract meaning from this apocalypse”. Well, maybe it is possible to simplify “currents of thought” in this way. But it is inevitably an oversimplification such as must make analysis suspect. To his credit, Kevin McKenna acknowledges that the abstraction may misrepresent Toby Young’s full argument.

I’ve probably rendered Young a disservice here by selectively quoting from what is actually a well-argued essay on why we should apply pure market forces to the care dilemma at the heart of coronavirus. Later, for instance, he goes on to say the economic downturn which is certain to follow coronavirus will also claim a great many lives and that we can mitigate this by taking hard decisions about the worth of human beings right now. Predictably, he has been condemned as inhuman for holding such views. Yet they are merely the distillation of pure, neoliberalism and, as such, have already found a home in this Conservative administration.

But having acknowledged that a less rigorously pragmatic approach to the “care dilemma” would also be likely to cause suffering and cost lives, Kevin McKenna glosses over this to focus exclusively on the human cost of what he characterises as “the distillation of pure, neoliberalism” implied by his selected quotes from Toby Young’s article. Apparently, that cost is inherently less if it is the consequence of an approach which can hold its head high as it proclaims its humanity.

I am also perplexed, and not a little irked, by Kevin McKenna’s claim that we are all striving to “extract meaning from this apocalypse”. By which I suppose him to mean that we are trying to understand the Covid-19 in something more than a strictly scientific, epidemiological sense. However, no understanding of this pandemic in any sense is aided by applying the term “apocalypse”. A term which means complete and final destruction of the world, but which may through usage be taken to imply something slightly less… well… apocalyptic. The reality is that, while extremely serious, the coronavirus pandemic is very, very far short of being an “apocalypse”. The word is not remotely appropriate. The virus is not threatening to eliminate anything close to a significant part of the world’s population. The pandemic is necessarily massively disruptive. But it is not massively lethal. Every avoidable early death is a tragedy. But we surely have to keep a sense of proportion.

Has Kevin never watched any disaster movies? Is he unaware of the likely reaction to news of the impending Armageddon? As a rule, it starts raining men, women and children as people jump off tall buildings to escape what the anticipate will be a more protracted and painful doom. Start an apocalypse panic and it’s highly likely that more people will be kill by falling bodies than could ever be killed by either the pandemic or its aftermath.

And what the hell does he mean by “this apocalypse”? There can be only one! You can’t send it back because it doesn’t come up to expectations raised by watching the movie ‘2012’ eighteen times. “We were promised continents crumbling into the ocean and what do we get? A dry cough and a runny nose!”.

Hands up everybody who’s trying to “extract meaning” from all of this. Not you, Archbishop! Sorry, Your Holiness, but no you don’t get 1.3 billion votes. Nobody’s sitting around philosophising about the pandemic. They’re too busy whining about being deprived of their football and their Saturday nights down the club. Or standing in the middle of their own 4-metre section of the queue at Asda hoping their’s some milk left by the time they’re allowed in as the 12 litres they panic-bought has gone off and they just can’t drink tea without milk.

The ‘ordinary people’ Kevin McKenna purports to be defending against the heartless Toby Youngs of this world don’t “extract meaning” from disasters, they build conspiracy theories around them. Or they just get on with their lives as best they can.

Kevin McKenna condemns a “market forces” solution to the care dilemma because it is “lacking in humanity”. But rather than outline a more humane solution he attacks neoliberal orthodoxy using reductio ad absurdum and a caricature involving exploding wheelchairs. He is undoubtedly right about the “arrogance and complacency of unearned privilege” But it is not only market-obsessives who treat life like a commodity. More always being better but, at a push, tradeable. His reaction to the suggestion that some life may be jettisoned in order to keep the economic system ticking over implies that he sees life much in the same way. Maybe it’s not the jettisoning of life that’s the issue. Maybe its the transaction that’s the problem. Perhaps it’s not more humanity that’s wanted, but a better deal.

Which brings me to my explanation of why I think Toby Young is right – at least to some extent. Supposing we take Kevin McKenna’s preferred approach and sacrifice cold calculation for warm and fuzzy sentiment. With one difference. We take account of how the old people themselves feel about it. We put their emotions into the equation. We see it from their perspective.

Trickle down economicsTejvan Pettinger

I am not particularly old. But hoping to see my 70th birthday this year, I could be said to be more old than young – by a significant margin. Kevin introduces his mother in support of his case so I’m assuming he’ll be OK with others personalising the debate in a similar way. Let’s suppose the virus was as deadly as hysterical sensationalists want it to be. Not apocalyptic. Because then the care dilemma becomes all but meaningless as everybody ends up just as dead as everybody else. (Yes! |I know there could still be a care dilemma relating to the manner of the dying. But gimme a break, eh!) Now suppose that there is a vaccine. But that the vaccine is in short supply. Suppose it came down to a choice between me and my son. Do you imagine I would hesitate to trade whatever years I might have remaining to save my child’s life? Put like that, the calculation is easy. And it is a calculation. It is a trade. It is not significantly different from what Toby Young seemed to suggest.

We might deck out this calculation in all the finery of noble sacrifice and what have you, but under it all will remain the calculation that my son’s life is worth more than mine. What is wrong with Toby Young’s point is not that it is lacking in humanity but that it is made in an unreasonable way. By discounting human emotions it forfeits reasonableness. Make the same argument in a way which takes account of human emotion and it starts to seem reasonable.

The problem with neoliberal orthodoxy and market forces-obsession is not that they are inhumane but that they are unreasonable. It is unreasonable to imagine human emotion can be excluded from our politics. It is unreasonable to suppose a socio-economic system that takes no account of human emotions can possibly be stable. It is unreasonable to rely on the willingness of people to subordinate their feelings to market forces. It is unreasonable to mistake those market forces for a natural phenomenon which left to its own devices will optimally regulate human society. It is unreasonable to think market forces are or ever can be left to their own devices.

It is unreasonable to present the care dilemma as a false choice between two options defined by market forces. It is unreasonable to insist that care my only be given or withheld. It is unreasonable to dismiss without thought the possibility that care might be shared. It is unreasonable to present the care dilemma solely as a matter of supply and demand rather than a question of distribution.

It is, for reasons which I hope would be apparent even to Toby Young, unreasonable to champion a system which prioritises exponential accumulation over equitable distribution. It is unreasonable to the point of insanity to suppose that such a system might be sustainable.

That’s a lot of unreasonableness for an ideology which claims superiority on the basis of its rationality. It is the unreasonableness of that ideology that is its weakness. The inhumanity is a a product or a symptom of the unreasonableness. Toby Young is right. But let’s be reasonable.



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J’Accuse

by Craig Murray

This article was originally published on Craig Murray’s own blog site. I reproduce it here because I believe it to be an important document which should be as widely distributed as possible. And as an act of solidarity with two people I know to be outstanding champions of Scotland’s cause. A cause which I am firmly persuaded is being chronically impeded and undermined by elements of the current administration in Edinburgh.


A 22 person team from Police Scotland worked for over a year identifying and interviewing almost 400 hoped-for complainants and witnesses against Alex Salmond. This resulted in nil charges and nil witnesses. Nil. The accusations in court were all fabricated and presented on a government platter to the police by a two prong process. The first prong was the civil service witch hunt presided over by Leslie Evans and already condemned by Scotland’s highest civil court as “unlawful, unfair and tainted by apparent bias”. The second prong was the internal SNP process orchestrated by a group at the very top in SNP HQ and the First Minister’s Private Office. A key figure in the latter was directly accused in court by Alex Salmond himself of having encouraged a significant number of the accusers to fabricate incidents.

The only accusations Police Scotland could take forward were given to them by this process. Their long and expensive trawl outside the tiny closed group of accusers revealed nothing. Let me say that again. Police Scotland’s long and expensive trawl outside the tiny closed group of accusers revealed nothing at all.

Let me give you an example. I have personally read an account by a woman who was contacted by the police and asked to give evidence. She was called in for formal interview by the police. The massive police fishing expedition had turned up the fact that, years ago, Alex Salmond had been seen to kiss this woman in the foyer of a theatre. She was asked if she wished to make a complaint of sexual assault against Alex Salmond. The woman was astonished. She told them she remembered the occasion and Alex, who was a friend, had simply kissed her on the cheeks in greeting. No, of course she did not wish to complain. She felt they were trying to push her to do so.

That is typical of hundreds of interviews in the most extensive and expensive fishing expedition in Scottish police history. That turned up nothing. Zilch. Nada.

What the police did get was eye witness evidence that several of the allegations they had been handed by the closed group were fabricated. Two eye witnesses, for example, appeared in court who had been within six feet of the alleged buttock grab during a Stirling Castle photocall. Both had been watching the photo being taken. Both testified nothing had happened. The police had that evidence. But they ignored it. A more startling example is below.

You may be interested to know the police also spent a great deal of time attempting to substantiate the “incident” at Edinburgh airport that has been so frequently recycled by the mainstream media over years. MI5 also hired a London security consultancy to work on this story. The reason so many resouces were expended is that they were desperate to stand up this claim as the only incident from outside the tiny cabal of Scottish government insiders.

They discovered the actual Edinburgh airport “incident” was that Alex Salmond had made a rather excruciating pun about “killer heels” when the footwear of a female member of staff had set off the security scanner gate. This had been reported as a sexist comment in the context of a much wider dispute about staff conditions. That is it. “Killer heels”. A joke. No charge arose from this particular substantial waste of police time, in which the involvement of MI5 is highly noteworthy.

You will probably know that I too faced politically motivated accusations of sexual misconduct from the state, in my case the FCO, when I blew the whistle on British government collusion in torture and extraordinary rendition. I too was eventually cleared of all charges. When you are facing such charges, there comes a moment when you reveal the evidence to those defending you. They, of course, will not necessarily have presumed your innocence. I recount in Murder in Samarkand this moment in my own case, when after going through all the evidence my representative turned to me and said in some astonishment “You really didn’t do any of this, did you?”. He had been disinclined to believe the British government really was trying to fit me up, until he saw the evidence.

In Alex Salmond’s case, after going through all the evidence, his legal team were utterly bemused as to why it was Alex Salmond who was being prosecuted; rather than the members of the WhatsApp group and senders of the other messages, texts and emails being prosecuted for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. There could not be a plainer conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Not only were members of this very small political grouping orchestrating complaints in the documented communications, they were encouraging their creation.

It is much worse than that. There is plain reference to active and incorrect communication from the SNP hierarchy to Police Scotland and the Crown Office.The reason that Police Scotland and the Procurator Fiscal’s office prosecuted the victim of the conspiracy rather than the conspirators, is that they had themselves been politically hijacked to be part of the fit-up. I fully realise the implications of that statement and I make it with the greatest care. Let me say it again. The reason that Police Scotland and the Procurator Fiscal’s office prosecuted the victim of the conspiracy rather than the conspirators, is that they had themselves been politically hijacked to be part of the fit-up. Just how profound are the ramifications of this case for the Scottish establishment has so far been appreciated by very few people.

Alex Salmond’s counsel, in his summing up for the defence, said that the evidence of collusion and conspiracy in the case “stinks”. It certainly does; and the stench goes an awful long way. A new unionist online meme today is to ask why the accusers would put themselves at risk of prosecution for perjury. The answer is that there is no such risk; the police and prosecutors, the Scottish government including, but not only, as represented by the accusers, have all been part of the same joint enterprise to stitch up Alex Salmond. That is why there is still no investigation into perjury or conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, despite the evidence not just of the trial but of the documents and texts which the judge prevented from being led as “collateral”.

I cannot begin to imagine how evil you have to be to attempt falsely to convict someone of that most vicious, most unforgivable of crimes – rape. But it is impossible to have followed the trial, still more impossible to know the evidence that the judge ruled inadmissible as collateral, without forming the view that this was a deliberate, a most wicked, conspiracy to fit him up on these charges. Furthermore it was a conspiracy that incorporated almost the entire Establishment – a conspiracy that included a corrupt Scottish Government, a corrupt Crown Office, a corrupt Scottish Police and an uniformly corrupt media.

Coverage of the trial was a disgrace. The most salacious accusations of the odious prosecutor were selected and magnified into massive headlines. The defence witnesses were almost totally ignored and unreported. The entire stream of evidence from credible witnesses that disproved the prosecution case in its entirety was simply never presented in the papers, still less on radio and TV. A great deal of that evidence proved that prosecution witnesses were not merely mistaken, but had been deliberately and coldly lying.

Let us consider the lead accusation, that of attempted rape. I want you honestly to consider whether or not this should have been brought before the court.

Woman H claimed that Salmond attempted to rape her after a small dinner with Alex Salmond, an actor (the publication of whose name the court banned), and Ms Samantha Barber, a company director. Salmond gave evidence that the entire story was completely untrue and the woman had not even been there that evening. Samantha Barber gave evidence that she knows woman H well, had been a guest at her wedding reception, and that woman H had phoned and asked her to attend the dinner with the specific explanation she could not be there herself. Indeed, affirmed Ms Barber, woman H definitely was not there. She had given that firm evidence to the police.

Against that, there was a vague statement by the actor that he believed a fourth person had been present, but he described her hair colour as different to woman H, described her as wearing jeans when woman H said she was wearing a dress, and did not say the woman had her arm in a sling – which it was established woman H’s arm was at that time. One arm in a sling would be pretty debilitating in eating and the sort of detail about a fellow diner at a very small dinner party you would likely remember.

Given the very firm statement from Samantha Barber, her friend, that woman H was definitely not there, a number of lawyers and police officers with whom I have discussed this have all been perplexed that the charge was brought at all, with such a strong witness to rebut it, given that the police were relying on an extremely tentative identification from the actor (who did not appear in court to be cross-examined). The truth is, as the jury found, that woman H was not physically there when she said the incident took place. Woman H had lied. More importantly, the evidence available to the police and prosecutor fiscal showed that there was never any realistic prospect of conviction.

So why was the charge brought?

You might also wish to consider this. While the jury was considering its verdict, two members of the jury were removed. Here I know more than I can legally say at present. That might be put together with the chance that somebody was tailing Alex Salmond’s defence counsel and video recording his conversation on a train. If you look at the recording, it is obvious that if it were being taken with a mobile phone, that act of recording would have been very plainly visible to Mr Jackson. It appears far more likely this was done with a concealed device, possibly routed through a mobile phone for purposes of metadata.

I only have definite good source information on MI5 involvement in the attempt to dredge up charges at Edinburgh airport. While I have no direct evidence the juror expulsion or the Jackson tape were underlain by security service surveillance, I am very suspicious given the knowledge that MI5 were engaged in the witch-hunt. Which of course also begs the question that if any of the alleged incidents inside Bute House were true, the state would by now have produced the MI5 or GCHQ/NSA recordings to prove it (claiming they were sourced from elsewhere). Salmond has been considered by them a threat to the UK state for decades, and not only over Scottish Independence.

I also ask you to consider who has been, and who has not been, persecuted. Alex Salmond stood in the dock facing total ruin. The conspirators have faced not even questioning about their collusion.

I have published the only detailed account of the defence case. In consequence not only was I slung out of court by the judge on a motion of the prosecution, and threatened with jail by the Crown Office for contempt of court, the judge also made an order making it illegal to publish the fact that I had been barred from the court, in effect a super injunction. Yet the mainstream media, who published ludicrously selective and salacious extracts from the proceedings designed deliberately to make Salmond appear guilty, have received no threats from the Crown Office. They continue to churn out article after article effectively claiming Salmond is guilty and massively distorting the facts of the case.

One consequence of the extreme media bias is that lies which were told by the prosecution are still being repeated as fact. The lie that a policy and/or practice was put into place to prevent women working alone in the evenings with Alex Salmond, was comprehensively demolished by four separate senior civil service witnesses, one of them a prosecution witness. That was never media reported and the lie is still continually repeated.

It is only the person who published the truth, as agreed by the jury, who faces hostile action from the state.

Because the only thing that was not fixed about this entire affair was the jury. And they may well have contrived to nobble even that with jury expulsion.

We should be very grateful to that jury of solid Edinburgh citizens, two thirds of them female. They were diligent, they did their duty, and they thwarted a great injustice in the midst of a media hanging frenzy that has to have impacted upon them, and probably still does.

I would however state that, up until she inexplicably expelled me from the court, I had found Lady Dorrian’s handling of the trial entirely fair and reasonable. Equally it was a judicial decision in the Court of Session that had found the Scottish Government process against Salmond to be “unlawful, unfair and tainted by apparent bias”.

Which brings me on to the role of the Head of the Scottish Civil Service, Leslie Evans. “We may have lost a battle, but we will win the war”. That is how, in January 2019, Leslie Evans had messaged a colleague the day they lost in the Court of Session. It is an interesting glimpse into the lifestyle of these people that the colleague she messaged was in the Maldives at the time.

It is incredible that after a process Evans claimed in court to have “established” was described as unlawful and unfair by a very senior judge, her first thought was on “winning the war”. That message alone is sufficient to sack Leslie Evans. Is shows that rather than being a civil servant engaged in an effort to administer justly, she was engaged as parti pris in a bitter battle to take down Alex Salmond. She would not even accept the verdict of the Court of Session. It astonishes me, as a former member for six years of the senior civil service myself, that any civil servant could commit themselves in that way to try ruthlessly to take down a former First Minister, with no heed whatsoever either to fair process or to the decision of the courts.

It is quite simply astonishing that Ms Evans has not been sacked.

Well, Leslie Evans did carry on her war. At the cost of many millions to the Scottish taxpayer, she has now lost the battle in both Scotland’s highest civil court and in Scotland’s highest criminal court. The campaign to destroy Salmond has been trounced in both the Court of Session and the High Court. That Leslie Evans is still in post is a national scandal. That Nicola Sturgeon a few weeks ago extended Evans’ tenure by a further two years is an appalling misjudgment.

Evans has a particularly unionist outlook and regards her role as head of the Scottish civil service as equivalent to a departmental permanent secretary of the United Kingdom. Evans spends a great deal of time in London. Unlike her predecessor, who regarded Scotland as separate, Evans regularly attends the weekly “Wednesday Morning Colleagues” (WMC) meeting of Whitehall permanent secretaries, chaired by the Westminster Cabinet Secretary. She much values her position in the UK establishment. What kind of Head of the Scottish Civil Service spends the middle of the week in London?

Rather than any action being taken against the perpetrators of this disgraceful attempt to pervert the course of justice, even after their plot has been roundly rejected in the High Court, the Scottish Government appears to be doubling down in its accusations against Alex Salmond through the medium of the state and corporate media, which is acting in complete unison. It has now been widely briefed against Salmond that Police Scotland has passed a dossier to the Metropolitan Police on four other accusations, set at Westminster.

What the media has not told you is that these accusations are from exactly the same group of conspirators; indeed from some of the actual same accusers. They also do not tell you that these accusations are even weaker than those pursued in Scotland.

In the massive effort to prove “pattern of behaviour” in Alex Salmond’s recent trial, incidents which happened outwith Scottish jurisdiction could be presented as evidence in a separate “docket”. Thus the defence heard evidence from the “Chinese docket” of Salmond “attempting to touch” a colleague’s hair in a hotel lift in China. Well, the London “docket” was considered even weaker than that, so it was not led in the Edinburgh trial. The idea that Leslie Evans’ “war” against Salmond will be won in an English court, having failed in both the civil and criminal Scottish courts, is just black propaganda.

As is the continued campaign to claim that Salmond is really guilty, carried on by Rape Crisis Scotland. They yesterday published a statement by the nine anonymous accusers attacking Salmond further, and rather amusingly the nine wrote together to deny they were associated with each other. It seems to me entirely illegitimate for this group to be able to conduct a continued campaign of political harassment of Alex Salmond from behind the cloak of state-enforced anonymity, after he has been acquitted of all charges. I understand the reasoning behind anonymity for accusers in sex allegations. But surely state backed anonymity should not be used to enable the continued repetition of false accusations without fear of defamation law, after the jury has acquitted? That is perverse.

It is also a fact that Rape Crisis Scotland is just another instrument of the Scottish government, being almost entirely funded by the Scottish government. There is a very serious infringement of public conduct here. One of the nine conspirators, whose statement is being amplified by Rape Crisis Scotland, is personally very directly involved in the channeling of government money to Rape Crisis Scotland. That is a gross abuse of office and conflict of interest and should be a resignation matter. Here again, direct wrongdoing is being carried out from behind the screen of state-backed anonymity.

Let me give you this thought. Alex Salmond having been acquitted, you would think that the unionist media would seek to capitalise by training its guns on those at the head of the SNP who sought to frame him, who after all are still in power. But instead, the unionist media is entirely committed to attacking Salmond, in defiance of all the facts of the case. That shows you who it is the British establishment are really afraid of. It also confirms what I have been saying for years, that the SNP careerist establishment have no genuine interest in Scottish Independence and are not perceived by Whitehall as a threat to the union. And in that judgement at least, Whitehall is right.

I should state that in this article I have, absolutely against my own instincts, deferred to Alex Salmond’s noble but in my view over-generous wish to wait until the Covid-19 virus has passed before giving all the names of those involved and presenting the supporting documents. I have therefore removed several names from this article. Alex Salmond believes that it is wrong to move on this at a time when many people are suffering and grieving, and he has stated that it would indeed be narcissistic to think of his own troubles at this time of wider calamity. I find this extremely upsetting when his enemies are showing absolutely no respect nor restraint whatsoever and are engaged in full-on attack on his reputation. I can assure you this is even more frustrating for me than for you. But while the mills of God grind slowly, they grind exceedingly small.

Those who do not know Scotland are astonished that the Alex Salmond trial and its fallout have not damaged support in the polls for Independence nor even for the SNP. I am not in the least surprised – the reawakening of the national consciousness of the Scottish people is an unstoppable process. If you want to see it, look not at any single politician but at the mass enthusiasm of one of the great, self-organised AUOB marches. The spirit of Independence rides the SNP as the available vehicle to achieve its ends. It is no longer primarily inspired nor controlled by the SNP – indeed the SNP leadership is blatantly trying to dampen it down, with only marginal success. This great movement of a nation is not to be disturbed by fleeting events.

That is not to underplay the importance of events for those caught up in them. As Alex Salmond stood in the dock, he was very probably staring at the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison, of never being with his wife Moira again, and of having his reputation as Scotland’s greatest national leader for centuries erased. The party hierarchy had already overseen the Stalinesque scrubbing of his image and name from all online content under the SNP’s control. The future now looks very different, and I am cheered by the brighter horizon.

Let me finish this article by observing that the British state continues to keep the unconvicted Julian Assange in conditions of appalling detention and receiving brutal personal treatment reserved normally for the most dangerous terrorists. The British state has refused to let Assange out of jail to avert the danger of Covid-19. By contrast the government of Iran has allowed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe out of prison to reduce her danger from the epidemic. Which of these governments is portrayed as evil by the state and corporate media?

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible.

This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.

Everybody doing the same thing differently together on their own

Countless millions of words have been written and spoken about Covid-19. I’ve written a few myself despite having resolved not to – because countless millions of words had already been written on the subject. It’s a mono-crisis! By definition, they’re difficult to avoid. As I write this I look back and am surprised to find that I’ve written half a dozen articles around the coronavirus pandemic. Seems I’ve made a very poor job of steering clear. And here I am, doing it again. Because out of those millions of words there’s a couple of things that have caught my attention.

We are told that the Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented. And we are told that it will change our lives forever. Inevitably, I have questions.

Is it really unprecedented? Is the Covid-19 pandemic sufficiently different from previous pandemics to justify the claim that it is totally novel? If it is unprecedented what differentiates it from those previous outbreaks?

Will Covid-19 really change the way we live our lives? In what ways will it change our lives? Who will decide how our lives are changed?

Viruses are not new. Neither are pandemics. For as long as there have been people, there have been things trying to kill people. More accurately, there have been things trying to live and using people as part of that process. The big things use us as food. We’ve killed most of them. The ones we haven’t killed tend not to regard us as an easy meal. It’s as if they remember how many of them we’ve killed. They tend to give people a wide berth. Although they’ll still snack opportunistically on people who have forgotten how to think of themselves as food. Or who rely too heavily on the species memory of predators. Or who are just stupid enough to put themselves on the menu.

The little things – microbes – use us as hosts or just happen to share our environment. Sometimes, them using us as hosts or sharing our environment disrupts our life process. They make us ill. Sometimes, they disrupt our life process to the extent that it ceases to be viable. We then experience the ultimate adaptation to the environment we have unsuccessfully shared with the microbes. We die. Not surprisingly or wholly without justification we then tend to think of those microbes as being killers. Although there is no malice aforethought. There is no intent. The microbes aren’t trying to kill us; they are just trying to live. We are the killers. We try to kill them. Not that they’re offended at all. They don’t care. They’re microbes.

We cohabit fairly well with bacteria. We have to. They were here first – about 3.5 billion years ago – so we grew up together. We also have to live with them because they’re tough little buggers. They can survive extremes of heat and cold and pressure and exist in radioactive environments and the vacuum of space as well as in human bodies.

In fact, they are part of us. We are not entirely made of stardust. There’s a lot of bacteria in the recipe for a person. Roughly half of the collection of cells that make a person are bacterial cells. They’re on you and in you. Mostly, we get on fine. But sometimes we get bacterial intruders that break in and start vandalising stuff causing our other cells to react in a way that we call ill. That’s why you should never eat the peanuts on the bar which come with free faecal matter donated by strangers who think hand-washing is a poor use of their valuable time.

More commonly, it’s our own bacterial cells that cause the trouble by getting out of place. The bacteria that live quite happily in your digestive tract tend to start a riot if they get into your blood stream. If you’re going to be a doctor one of the first things you have to learn is that shite and blood are not a great double-act. If you see them together, one or other of them is up to no good. I don’t think it’s showing undue prejudice to say that it’s almost always the shite that’s the culprit. There’s a reason why the phrase ‘stirring the blood’ has positive connotations while saying the same of shite conjures entirely negative associations.

The verdict on bacteria is that they’re mostly OK, but they’re worth watching. Viruses are a different kettle of fish. Actually, science has now established that viruses are not kettles. Nor do they contain fish. Or evil spirits. But they’re very different from bacteria in other ways. They are smaller, for a start. And they’re less complex. But the most significant difference is that while bacteria can reproduce themselves – sometimes a bit too efficiently – viruses need a host. They latch onto other cells. Different viruses go for different cells in your body. Some attack blood cells. Some attack liver cells. Some, as we’re finding out, attack cells in the respiratory system. In doing so they almost always cause disease. They invade a healthy cell and reprogram it to make more viruses; killing the formerly healthy cell in the process. Or they turn the healthy cell into a malignant cell. A bit like being bitten by a zombie. Neither of which is a good thing. But being bitten by a zombie is less of a worry because they don’t exist, while viruses certainly do.

Viruses aren’t new. And they’re always new. Because they mutate. Like every other organism, they try to adapt to their environment. (Humans are different in that rather than adapting to our environment, we try to adapt the environment to us. This is not a viable strategy for species survival in the longer term.) Viruses are very good at mutating because they are very good at reproducing – so long as they have a supply of host cells. With evolution it’s not time that matters so much as the number of generations that the organism can pack into a given period. Each new generation is an opportunity for coding errors – some of which will be adaptive. If you are a creature that produces only one generation every 25 years then it will take a great many years to produce enough errors for the odds to tilt far enough towards the adaptive to result in a useful mutation. Which is tough luck if the environment changes at a more rapid pace.

Viruses mutate at a very rapid rate relative to humans. Which makes them very dangerous. Or not. Because some of the mutations make the virus less aggressive while some make it more aggressive. Evolution is always random. It’s only the products of the process which look as if they were manufactured according to a plan. Because the virus mutates so rapidly it can be difficult to produce a vaccine to combat it before it has done significant harm to populations. The best way by far of dealing with viruses is to cut off their supply of healthy cells susceptible to serving as hosts. Basically, this means maintaining strict separation between the people who are hosting a population of the virus and people who are potential hosts for new populations. That means everybody.

Not everybody may be infected. Not everybody may be a viable host – some people are naturally immune. But absolutely everybody is either potentially infected or potentially a host for infection. So the only way to stop a viral infection becoming a pandemic is to create and maintain a minimum amount of space between individuals. All of them! All of the time! Which is problematic – because humans are social animals. Because we’re social, and because for a relatively brief period of the planet’s history we’ve been uncommonly good at manipulating our environment to serve our purposes as well as uncommonly bad at predicting and managing the consequences, there’s a lot of us. An awful lot. In at least two senses of the term.

As an alternative to separation by distance, we can introduce physical barriers with a view to preventing transfer of viruses between host and potential hosts. But this comes up against the human proclivity for rubbing up against each other’s naked bodies for pleasure and procreation – and not infrequently for profit. We’re not very good at resisting this temptation. And not very reliable when it comes to maintaining the integrity of those barriers. If you think hat-hair’s bad then try gas-mask-hair!

The viruses take full advantage of our human folly. They’ll probably win in the end. But there’s no reason we shouldn’t put up a fight. Which we should be able to do. Because viruses aren’t new. We’ve been fighting them for a long time. We should start getting good at it any time now. They have genetic mutation. But we have science. They can only do what they’ve always done. We can develop new weapons to use against them.

Pandemics aren’t new either. There are two examples of viral pandemics which spring immediately to mind. A strain of influenza called ‘Spanish Flu’ killed around 30 million people worldwide in 1918/19. And the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic is another mass killer. We are constantly under threat of a lethal viral pandemic. But, like people who live on geological fault-lines or the slopes of volcanoes, we somehow manage to disregard the risk. We ignore the threat; usually until it’s too late. As a species, we are like adolescents. We imagine ourselves invulnerable and immortal. Nature tends to remind us we’re not. But we’ve yet to grow up enough to heed the warnings.

Strictly speaking, then, it is not true to say that the Covid-19 crisis is “unprecedented”. There may be some sense in which it is true. But this is less to do with the virus and the pandemic and more to do with the way we have responded.

First off, there’s the fact that we did respond. And the fact that we responded relatively quickly and at a level which if not quite global was at least a messy approximation of a global response. In the past, there may have been viral epidemics to which we didn’t respond at all. Because we couldn’t. As a species, we had neither the knowledge to recognise a viral disease or how it functioned and we had no tools with which to fight it even if we’d been aware of what it was. That viral infections didn’t wipe us out long before now isn’t down to our intervention but to the fact that for most of our history we lived in small, nomadic groups that avoided contact with other groups even if by chance they happened to cross paths. (Actually, if they were avoiding each other then they would tend not to cross paths in any literal sense. But you know what I mean.) With a global population numbering single digit millions, group-isolation was the norm even if self-isolation wasn’t practised or possible. A virus could wipe out an entire kin-group or tribe. But it would then run out of hosts and die. There may be lessons to be learned from this.

Those were conditions in which herd immunity might actually work. Natural immunity could leave a few members of the kin-group alive and able to rebuild the tribe with some of that naked body rubbing I mentioned earlier. Herd immunity can’t work when the herd numbers the entire species. Which is pretty much the case in our massively connected world. There may be lessons to be learned from this.

In the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic the response was poorly informed and piecemeal. In the case of HIV/AIDS the response was disastrously slow and in many ways reluctant; with a lot of denial. There are definitely lessons to be learned from both of these precedents.

What makes Covid-19 “unprecedented” is the fact that it was identified so quickly and its behaviour understood and its spread predicted. We were ready for it. Almost!

This ability to predict, not necessarily the appearance of a deadly virus in humans, but what happens next is what’s unprecedented. What you can predict, you can manage. And what you can manage, you must. How we manage viral pandemics in future is what will change the way we live our lives. Maybe.

When a politician – or a scientist, for that matter – declares that the world will be different due to some event or development, the first question must be “Will it?”. We are not that great at learning lessons. And quite outstanding at forgetting them once they have been learned. We still build communities on flood-plains beneath volcanoes and on top of bits of the planet’s surface which are likely to open up and swallow an entire city, or shake it to rubble. How many bloody wars did it take before the people of Europe learned the lesson and took steps to prevent any more? How long was it before enough people forgot that lesson so completely as to allow the tragicomic fiasco that is Brexit? Will we learn the lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic? There’s reason to be sceptical. Will the lessons stick sufficiently to be effective on an ongoing basis? There’s cause for doubt.

If the way we live our lives is to be changed by Covid-19, what will these changes look like? How will the changes be implemented or enforced? Who will decide? These are all valid and urgent questions. Needless to say, they are questions left unanswered by our political leaders. “Life will be different!” makes for a nice bit of rhetoric. After that, it gets controversial. And controversy is to be avoided… like the plague. That doesn’t stop us speculating. Indeed, it makes speculation essential. I’m sure the politicians would much rather we weren’t talking about long-terms plans. I’m certain they’d rather we settle for the well-worn mantra of ‘now is not the time’. If now is not the time, then when? When they have decided for us? When their ‘solution’ is a fait accompli and the mantra changes to ‘there’s no going back’? I don’t think so!

One thing that is going to have to change is the relationship between the government and the governed. There will have to be greater mutuality and cooperation. People are going to have to be able to trust their government with extraordinary powers. Governments are going to have to win that trust and in turn put trust in communities and individuals. What is true within nations also holds for relationships between and among nations. If I tend to think and speak in terms of Scotland this is not due to any narrow nationalism as the shallow-minded will undoubtedly insist. It is simply that Scotland is where I live. It’s the place and the politics with which I am familiar. While the measures necessary to develop the means to defend against viral pandemics may be the same for everybody and every place, the manner of their implementation will differ according to local circumstances. Each legislature; each national community of communities will have to produce similar outcomes in their own way.

What has to happen? What has to happen to enable that to happen or to make it happen? These are the key questions. And the answers are not hard to find. The answers are staring us in the face. We are living in the middle of the answers.

As I was writing this, I heard a news bulletin on the radio which included a report of some British politician talking about the need to step-up measures to deal with the pandemic. Whoever said this is, of course, the kind of turdwit who must immediately be denied any influence over public policy. The notion of an escalating response to a viral pandemic is triple-distilled idiocy. If you’re responding, the virus is ahead. If the virus is ahead, you’re losing. If you’re losing, you’re dying. The idea of escalating measures is the witless offspring of an unspeakable liaison between political cowardice and administrative incompetence. It is a plan for doing too little too late. It is madness!

What the lessons teach us is that it is essential to get ahead of the virus. If developments are allowed to dictate the response then ‘control’ is handed to to the virus. Because the virus dictates developments. It proceeds in a fixed way. It does all the escalating. Why would we wait to see what the virus does when we know precisely what it will do if we wait? And what it will do is become more lethal and more difficult to stop. Perhaps unstoppable! Or only stoppable at the kind of cost we cannot contemplate without ourselves becoming as heartless and deadly as the disease. At the first mention of militarily ‘sanitising’ swathes of territory, it’s over for us.

We know what stops the virus. Separation. Isolation. Quarantine. We need to develop ways of doing this without creating fire-blasted wastelands between communities. Because if we don’t develop the civilised alternative then we can be certain that the barbaric one will be deployed. Or it will be planned for. It will become a contingency. At which point it becomes a question not of whether or when it is deployed but how do we stop it.

If the very moment the existence of the virus was announced the entire world had gone into complete lockdown, the virus would have disappeared in a relatively short time. How quickly would be a function of factors such as incubation period, detection delay and much else. How effectively the virus would be eradicated is entirely a function of how complete the lockdown is. If we are serious about developing the means to prevent a future viral pandemic, we must steel ourselves to the task of setting up systems whereby lockdown on a global scale happens in a matter of hours, not days or weeks. And certainly not on any kind of escalating basis. Every nation must be able to physically isolate itself from all other nations in four hours or less. Every community withing the nation must have the capacity to seal itself off from other communities. Every household and workplace within the community must be able to cut itself off from contact with the rest of the community. Every individual must be educated in ways to secure their own isolation to the greatest extent possible. There can be no compromise on this. Every compromise is a crack in the armour which the virus will exploit.

Some will claim that this would require a world government. Possibly a global dictatorship. The opposite is true. It requires a more cellular organisation with decision-making distributed throughout. A global dictatorship would be impractical and quite possibly lethal, quite apart from the political considerations. The more centralised the decision-making and direction the more general – and therefore deadly – the consequences of any failure. And there will be failure. The trick is to succeed big while failing small. This is achieved by cellular organisation.

If drastic military measures are unthinkable then draconian political measures are at least unacceptable. The aim – the challenge – must be to create the capacity to respond appropriately to an outbreak of viral disease anywhere in the world without destroying the best of what we have.

I know that what I suggest is technically possible. Whether it is politically feasible very much depends on all of us. The people. For sure, if it’s left to the professional politicians and technocrats and hidebound bureaucrats it won’t happen. They can be relied upon to create a system with as many loopholes as the tax system. If we don’t demand better, we’ll get only what’s on offer. And what’s on offer is nowhere near good enough. I said earlier that if life post-pandemic is to be different, and if we hope the difference will be something that we can live with as well as survive by, then it will need a wholesale redrafting of the relationship between the governed and their government. It just happens that this wouldn’t be such a bad idea even if there wasn’t the looming threat of a global killer plague.



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Ouroboros

There are two things we know with absolute certainty about the Covid-19 pandemic. Firstly, it will be exploited by politicians and sensationalised by the media. Secondly, anybody who says it’s being exploited by politicians and sensationalised by the media will be denounced as a heretic.

We know that it will be exploited by politicians and sensationalised by the media because that is what they do. Politicians can no more resist the urge to exploit a crisis than a hungry lion can resist the urge to eat that tasty looking chap who took the thorn from its paw. The media can no more resist an opportunity to manipulate public perceptions than a fly can resist a glistening fresh dog turd on the pavement. It’s what they do. It’s how things work.

It stands to reason that for the exploitation and sensationalisation to be fully effective it is essential to silence as far as possible the voices who would make public observations on the matter. It’s not that many or any of these voices are likely to significant;y impede the exploitation or impair the sensationalisation. It’s just that any system set up for the purpose of exploitation and sensationalisation of crises would tend to develop alongside its ability to exploit and sensationalise a capacity for defending its ability to exploit and sensationalise. It’s adaptive.

None of this is controversial. At an intuitive level, people expect politicians to exploit a crisis. People simply assume the media will mediate their perceptions of a crisis. The clue’s in the name. Except when there is a crisis. Then people generally baulk at the idea their politicians would exploit THIS crisis. Largely because the politicians and the media are telling them that THIS crisis is different from all the other crises that have been exploited and sensationalised.

When there is a crisis, people tend to suspend much of their scepticism about the media. Mainly because the media and the politicians are telling them that THIS crisis is not the same as previously sensationalised and exploited crises.

Because THIS crisis is both different and not the same there is no scope for any nuanced opinion about any aspect of THIS crisis. It is exceptional. Therefore, exception is taken to any observation, commentary or analysis which strays from the official line that THIS crisis is exceptional. No observation, comment or analysis may suggest that any aspect of THIS crisis might be less exceptional than the politicians and the media say it is in terms of its exploitation and sensationalisation. To suggest that THIS crisis might be exploited and sensationalised to any degree is to suggest that THIS crisis is similar in some regards to previous crises and therefore not exceptional. Or at least, not as exceptional as the politicians and media say it is.

To suggest that THIS crisis may not be entirely exceptional is to claim that it is not a crisis at all and that people should resume their normal lives – including their customary cynicism about politicians and scepticism about the media. Or that is how the suggestion will be interpreted by those who have an interested in maintaining the perception of THIS crisis as entirely exceptional. Including the politicians who seek to exploit the crisis and the media which want to manipulate public perceptions of the crisis.

And so the wheel turns.



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