When asked to list the benefits of being in the UK Union, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross was left scrambling for answers. He landed on the UK’s covid response and vaccine deployment when pressed. This, it seemed, was his best reason for us all to stay shackled in a broken political union.
He is on shaky ground if this is going to be his approach.
Without a doubt, the UK was quick off the mark with vaccines, and the UK Government played its part in that prompt response. A reaction that was possible in no small part due to the incredible work undertaken by the scientific community, particularly those who worked on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, along with Swedish partners.
But, of course, that is only part of the story:
Few of us will ever forget the Prime Minister’s own response to the initial surge in COVID cases. “let the bodies pile high” was his well-reported choice of words. Hardly the comfort people needed when their lives were at risk.
When people needed to trust their Government most, they were treated to falsehoods repeatedly by the Prime Minister. His lies were perpetrated amid the worst health pandemic in living history – not something people can easily forget.
The Prime Minister and his Government asserted without any basis that they could only vaccinate the public because of Brexit. They claimed the big bad European Medicines Agency would have stopped them. It is still repeated, and it is still a whopper. Yet, back then, the UK was still transitioning from the EU and still subject to EU laws. The UK’s former Vaccine Task Force Head, Kate Bingham, said of the claims, “Any other country could have registered the vaccine under EU law -so that was nothing to do with Brexit.”
It really does speak for itself that Ross thinks the UK response to a crisis that has left the public trust in tatters is his strongest defence of the union.
Douglas Ross also claimed that research indicated that if it were not part of the UK political union, Scotland would have missed out on over a million vaccinations. It is quite a statement to make, given the impact damaging public trust had on the vaccination programme.
It also begs the question of how several small independent countries have successfully vaccinated their populations – and what would have made Scotland different?
Malta, for instance, has vaccinated more people per 100 of the population than the UK. In fact, CNN has an excellent vaccine tracker showing the UK behind many nations, including independent countries of Cuba, Singapore, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Ireland, and Finland. Some are in the EU, and some are not, but all have delivered more arms shots by their populations’ measures.
So, again, why would Scotland be the only small independent country that wouldn’t have been able to vaccinate its population?
Ross and his colleagues love to talk up the “broad shoulders” of UK Government financial support. It’s as if no other country, large or small, took action to protect its citizen’s livelihoods.
During lockdown in 2020, Columbia University looked at the support nations were giving to their people. It is striking that, again, independent Malta was at the top of the list, providing 25% of GDP to its people, compared to the UK’s 5%. The UK came 47th by the measures used. Factoring in banking support pushed it up the rankings, but much of that funding never reached the people who needed it. In France, 100% of wages were paid to those on low pay, and in the Netherlands, 90%.
Every Government with fiscal control has the power to help the people they serve.
It never adds up, as to why Ross and his colleagues believe Scotland would be the only country not able to do this.
While on fiscal responsibility, remember the dodgy procurement processes, the cronyism, and the wasted millions spent by awarding contracts to their buddies. There was the damning report by the Westminster committee on the PPE procurement shambles and the 10s of billions of pounds wasted on test and trace measures never used or the “eye watering sums spent on overpriced consultants.”
Douglas Ross may want to wear his rose-tinted glasses when looking at the UK’s response to the pandemic, but the rest of us live in reality.
That he thinks these are his strongest arguments for the UK union says a lot about the lack of benefits of this outdated political union. If this is their best reason to stay, roll on the day when we have the power to build a fairer, more prosperous Scotland.
Contributor: Drew Hendry, SNP MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strath
Listen to Drew on Scotland’s Choice Podcast or catch up with him over on his website