As Scotland enters its new tiered system of restrictions today, England is getting prepared to dump it. Boris Johnson’s Saturday announcement of a four-week national lockdown, only for England, came about six weeks after his SAGE advisors had argued for a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown and he offered up the tiered system. What a mess.
The good news is that Scotland’s covid-19 trajectory does not currently appear to be moving in the same direction as England’s, with the seven-day moving average falling from around 1,400 to 1,200 north of the border. The % of positive tests is also down, though hospitalisations and deaths are still rising. The national restrictions on hospitality appear to have had an impact. It seems somewhat counter-intuitive then that in much of the country bars and restaurants will today be re-opening (though with important restrictions), but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon intends to follow through with the new five-tier system north of the border.
The growing disjuncture between Scotland and England does create a problem for the Scottish Government, which is that the Treasury’s last minute extension of the furlough scheme and payment holidays is not adaptive to Scottish conditions. Finance Minister Kate Forbes says she has been told that the furlough scheme is only “for the duration of a lockdown in England”. So the Scottish Government better be confident that the new tiered system is not simply delaying a full Scottish lockdown in one or two months’ time and is sufficiently rigorous to actually pull case numbers down, or else it’s going to be an extremely bad Christmas north of the border.
As for Johnson, he is now in serious political hot water. There is an open rebellion among backbench MPs, though he will be able to rely on Labour votes to pass his new lockdown through the House of Commons this week. There are no good outcomes for the prime minister now from this crisis, only varying degrees of damage limitation, such is the scale of the mismanagement.
Meanwhile, the rage boils in society. This is something the left has to get to grips with – all across Europe a completely different mood can be sensed between now and the first national lockdown, where governments were largely given the benefit of the doubt. Not only is the psychology different this time after months of government mixed messages and ultimately failure, so are people’s bank accounts. Food banks are reporting a new cohort of users: people with cars, people with mortgages, the self-employed and small business owners are now showing up.
“They are used to a certain lifestyle – more outgoings, credit cards, car finance etc, and have always worked,” a food bank organiser in Dudley told The Guardian.
Back at the start of July, after Johnson made a speech in Dudley, we asked on Source Direct: “What does the left have to say to Dudley?” Is it imaginative enough to rise to the occasion, and develop an economic plan for towns in despair, where people want to live, but they also want the means to live a dignified life? Or will it tail failing Tory economy policy, and allow those angry to drift towards far-right conspiracy theorists and other assorted anti-lockdown voices for an outlet for their rage? Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is re-branding as an anti-lockdown party, and one can see why.
These questions are more pertinent now than in July. It’s not good enough to simply say “keep furlough”: the left needs to be proposing solutions which permanently restructure economic power and wealth and give people a sense of agency and control, not temporary stop-gaps that increase dependence on corporations. There will be long-term consequences from a failure to show leadership in this moment, and they won’t be pretty.
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