Yesterday the Scottish Government produced its route map out of the Coronavirus “Lock-down”. The message was clear. There is light at the end of the tunnel, we will meet again, but we don’t know when. You will get your freedom back, the freedom we have taken from you, the freedom to associate, to work, to trade, to congregate, to socialise, to worship, to play, to travel, to welcome strangers, to visit and embrace your family and your loved ones. You will get that back, but only when we decide the time is right. Only when “The Science” tells us it safe to do so. And just in case you become too relaxed about it, if things change, we can reverse things at any point. So be warned.
From the beginning I felt that the prison term “lock-down” had more than a little resonance to the situation we were in. I think I have been right about that. Now we know that before being fully released we will be effectively be in an open prison, allowed out in stages, on day release, where we will be given some freedoms to demonstrate that we can use these responsibly. Once we have proved we can, we will be given more until we have full freedom, but even then, we will still be out on licence and liable to be brought back in at any moment. Too many Portobello incidents, and we will all be back in “lock-down”. That has been clear.
It is really hard to believe that all this is happening. But it is. It is really hard to believe that almost all good people have accepted it with barely a whimper of protest or question. But they have. It is hard to believe that the shaky models, the selected statistics, the loaded graphs, the unequal comparisons as well as that mysterious “R” number have been given such an uncritically free ride. The merest scratch would have shown that the case for the “lock-down” was and is based on the shakiest of foundations and would not withstand any serous intellectual challenge by people who know. Do you think that the government and all their advisers together could hold their case in an open debate with the likes of Jonathan Sumption, David Starkey, Lionel Shriver or Peter Hitchens? No neither do I.
It is unlikely that the politicians and their advisers will have the courage to admit that they made a mistake, an error of judgement, and even in a future enquiry they are likely to shield behind a Nike defence that it was “Right at that time” It is also unlikely that the general population, we who have invested so much in this sacrifice, will want to believe they have been fooled. But I think we have.
What truly scares me is the legacy of the “lock-down” which may survive for a long time after the whole thing has passed by and forgotten like any other seven-day wonder. We can see that legacy already being introduced into the “New Normal” with the continuation of that cruel and inhumane policy of “Social distancing”. Nicole Sturgeon said that Scotland should “take care not to slip back into old and bad ways of doing things”. She didn’t say what the bad ways were. Maybe it was just the filthy habit of not washing hands, or careless sneezing or spitting but I suspect she was hinting at a new normal where social distancing becomes the norm, where the fear of infection eclipses everything else, where we see every stranger as a possible carrier of a deadly disease, and we withdraw into our own bubbles, avoid embracing, touching, reaching out, offering handshakes or any form of physical expression of welcome or concern or comfort to others.
Welcome to the New Nightmare.