There is a chilling scene in George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’ when the looming face of authority beams down from an ever-present television screen, warning everyone that “Big Brother is watching you.” In the dystopian ‘future’ world that Orwell imagined, the watchful eye of a ‘Big Brother’ government sought total control, not only of its people, but also, through its ‘Thought Police’, even of their thoughts. The daily covid broadcasts by Nicola Sturgeon, tell the people of Scotland what they can and cannot do in an increasingly authoritarian way, while Humza Yousaf, the SNP government’s Justice Secretary, presses on with his bill to outlaw freedom of speech. It may be 36 years late, but Orwell’s ‘1984’ has arrived.
Against a surge of travel turmoil, anti-vax riots, anti-mask protests, student lockdowns, parties and raves, the covid chaos continues apace. The public are becoming increasingly disillusioned and frustrated by the endless cycle of ‘Big Brother’ stop-go restrictions. Six months is a long time to suffer lockdowns, curfews, social-distancing, compulsory face masks and daily broadcasts by Nicola Sturgeon. Surely Scotland’s first minister has better things to do, like running the country and rescuing our economy? Now, a second wave of the virus has heralded the introduction of a whole new swathe of lockdowns and curfews.
Once again, Scotland’s first minister has decided to go her own way, introducing much tougher restrictions than England, despite the fact that one of her MPs, Margaret Ferrier, ignored every single rule by recklessly travelling from Scotland to London and back again by train while she knew she had the virus. The dreaded ‘rule of six’, where no more than six people could meet socially indoors has been thrown out in Scotland and replaced with a total ban on visiting other households indoors at all, although you can still meet up to six people from two households outdoors. Advice on returning to work in offices has been reversed and once again people are told to work from home. Thirty people can attend a wedding in Wales, while only 20 can attend in Scotland and 15 in England. In Northern Ireland the hotels or venues can make up their own minds on wedding numbers. The same rules apply to funerals, except in England, where grimly, 30 people can attend.
The bewildering confusion across the four nations of the UK has seen us first being told to go back to the pubs and restaurants; remember “eat out to help out”? Now we’ve to avoid pubs and restaurants after 10pm. Students were conned by the SNP government into returning to university, only to find themselves placed in almost total lockdown. After six months stuck at home with their parents, the return to schools and universities must have seemed like a dream. Now it has turned into a nightmare. The uproar this caused led to a partial climbdown, with the First Minister announcing that students can return home if they wish, although they and their parents would all have to remain in isolation for 14 days. Even Christmas is under threat. No wonder people are tearing their hair out in perplexity!
The growing sense of frustration has boiled over in ugly ways. A nurse, suspended by the Nursing and Midwifery Council for her views, led a violent protest of Anti-vaxxers in Trafalgar Square, London, in mid-September. Kate Shemirani, who trained in Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary and worked as a registered nurse for 35 years, calls Covid-19 a ‘scamdemic.’ She believes the whole coronavirus crisis is a conspiracy to control the public and like other crackpots, she believes the symptoms associated with Covid-19 are connected to 5G wireless technology. She whipped a crowd of hundreds into a frenzy in Trafalgar Square, calling for her supporters to confront the police. Violent clashes led to 32 arrests. Several police officers were injured. There was another violent anti-lockdown rally in London last weekend and there will probably be another one today.
Earlier in September more than 500 anti-mask protesters rallied outside the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. The event was organised by a group called ‘Saving Scotland’ who proclaimed that they were against the mandatory face-mask rules, as well as social-distancing and other lockdown restrictions. Their demo led to a twitter storm with hundreds of tweets accusing ‘Saving Scotland’ of being selfish, stupid, attention-seeking idiots. Many people wondered why the police had failed to disperse the unsafe and illegal gathering.
The coronavirus has cost the UK government hundreds of billions of pounds. With the furlough scheme nearing its end, it is feared that there may be up to four million unemployed, despite radical new covid support plans unveiled by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak. Britain faces the biggest depression in its history. Those businesses, hotels, bars, restaurants and small and medium-sized enterprises that have managed to survive with government assistance cannot withstand another lockdown. Even the newly introduced curfews could be lethal for the hospitality sector.
The situation has become highly volatile. It is incredible that the Westminster government and the three devolved governments seem determined to go their own separate ways on so many of the regulations and controls. Surely the whole of the UK could share and agree on the same science? There have been repeated warnings that, with winter approaching, if the current restrictions fail to control the spread of the virus then we could be facing total lockdowns, travel bans, curfews and worse still, the complete closure of the hospitality sector. But such draconian decrees failed to stop the virus before and will simply defer the threat to a third and even a fourth wave, wrecking the economy and placing entire communities in meltdown.
Maybe we should follow the Belgian example by moving from crisis management to risk management. Last week the Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said “normal life must be revived, but in an appropriate way so that the epidemic remains under control.” Surely, in Scotland, we are smart enough to make our own risk assessments and act accordingly? We really don’t need ‘Big Brother’ to control every aspect of our safety, freedom and personal space.