Britain united against Covid is better than Scotland divided against itself

WHEN AN UNEXPECTED virus has wrought pain and suffering across the land, leaving many families grieving; when the Government response has caused the economy to go into reverse, with uncertainty and unemployment hanging over millions like a black cloud before a terrifying storm; and when the next decade will be defined by helping the NHS cope with the backlog of treatments currently denied and the mounting mental health impacts especially among our young – should we not all pull together to focus on protecting our most vulnerable while we deliver the vaccines efficiently?  

Surely we need to join together to unlock our economy and wider society from restrictions that have become more disproportionate by the day? 

Surely we should all identify what binds us and tap into our community spirit, our sense of national solidarity so that we can help one another though this testing time?  

I marvel at how our community has helped each other, volunteered and turned up to work – all while facing real risks. Not just those in the NHS, but others like the lassie working at the till, the bloke emptying the bins, the postie turning up every day and the delivery guys ringing our bells with crisis-saving goods or take-aways – all while meeting many, many people in the course of their work. 

So what kind of mindset is it that thinks the priority must be to carry on campaigning to break up our country? To sow division when we need unity of purpose – and to see Covid-19 as an opportunity to express a narrow-nationalism when collaboration should be the imperative?  

Why is it that Nicola Sturgeon and her fellow ministers behave as if the political landscape has not changed and Scots are more interested in breaking free from some mythical colonial yoke that impoverishes people – when the generosity of the British Treasury has been unbounding?  

Over centuries the United Kingdom has been a melting pot; Scots settled and worked in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – as have many from all corners of our island made their home in Scotland. We have toiled all hours and spilled blood together to get through challenges even greater than Covid. We have together created and invented many of the glories that have advanced the modern world, liberating people at home and abroad from hardship, poverty and suffering. There is no greater realisation of British solidarity than the creation of the NHS that raised standards across the whole of Britain. 

Scots like Professor Edward Cathcart and AJ Cronin, Englishmen William Beveridge and Henry Willink, and of course Welshman Nye Bevan – hailing from across all of Britain and coming from differing political parties worked together to form our NHS.  

Fortunately, because of the Prime Minister’s sound decision to invest heavily in vaccine research and ignore the European Union’s slow-moving vaccine procurement and research programme the UK has been able to get ahead and start vaccinating since early December. This has been shared proportionately across the UK, and all in Scotland are beneficiaries of that. 

What the public wants now, wherever we live, is to see speedy inoculation rolled out in a fair and efficient manner. If politicians are promoting tasks forces for independence one day and then cancelling them the next, supporting legislation to hold a second referendum and delaying Covid policies until they are re-badged as Scottish, they will be distracted and lives will be lost.   

We can already see the evidence; The number of 80-year-olds vaccinated in Scotland by last Friday stood at 13% – in Wales it was 24%, in Northern Ireland it was 45% and in England it was 56% – some four times the Scottish figure.  

Nicola Sturgeon originally ignored the offer of help from the British armed forces but is only now allowing them to step in. Frankly, it should not have been up to her to decide. A similar delay in her decision-making ensured that Covid-infected patients continued to be moved from Scottish hospitals into care homes without tests or with their positive tests ignored when it had been stopped elsewhere – resulting in the proportion of deaths with Covid-19 in Scottish care homes being 47% to England’s 30%. 

Continually campaigning on the need for independence is an unnecessary distraction to handling the Covid crisis. 

We should not be surprised at such as an appalling outcome. Scotland once had the finest state education system in the world but since Sturgeon’s SNP came to power standards have collapsed to embarrassing levels. The same goes for so many of Scotland’s vital public services. Be it schooling, the economy, hospital waiting times or policing, what in Scotland was once gold has been turned to dust by nationalist neglect. Powers have been centralised and local governments have had their budgets slashed despite the British Treasury increasing spending. 

The lesson is simple. Nationalism divides us, it seeks to scapegoat others and turn one group against the other. It distorts and embitters our politics and prevents good governance. No politician should be spending a minute of their time seeking to break up Britain, we need to call out such political self-indulgence for the selfishness it is and say no to referendums for a generation. There’s a bigger job to be done and lives are put at risk by not focussing solely on it.  

Michelle Ballantyne is a member of the Scottish Parliament for South of Scotland and leader of Reform UK Scotland.

An edited version of this article was first published in the Sunday Express on 24 January 2021