Proponents of Scottish independence have been told to “pack it in” for the time being – political arguments must be dropped in the interest of a war-like national unity. However, in times of crisis, we should not be discouraged from arguing for a better deal, especially as our situation lays bare the case for an independent Scotland.

Writing: Krzysztof Pukacz

As a deadly pandemic spreads throughout the planet and the UK is set to reach the second highest mortality rate in the world, a whole chorus of publications, including the Spectator and Express, have echoed cries for national unity across this fractured island. The case for independence is dead, they say; the crisis has shown the need for a strong central authority which only a medieval institution could provide. Scotland on its own is too small and does not have the budget for anything serious like this.

The campaign for independence has been suspended, with Nicola Sturgeon urging campaigners to put their efforts to good use in their communities as mutual aid. However, even if the campaign is suspended and the referendum may be delayed, we must keep the flame of independence alive, and this pandemic is a prime example of why.

After enjoying a few months of smooth sailing on the winds of Brexit and the nationalist fervour it inspired down south, as well as a high approval rating and smashing result in the December general election, Boris Johnson and his government have finally hit a brick wall in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic. The government’s cruelty and incompetence is laid bare by their response to this crisis, like tough dirt under a blacklight; putting another strain on the Scottish electorate’s trust for Westminster - already damaged by Brexit. Despite Johnson’s extended honeymoon period, propelled by Brexit and the English electorate, this may be the last straw, costing the institutions of the United Kingdom the trust of the Scots.

The list of the British Government’s blunders grows longer by the day: a recent Panorama Documentary has shown just how little the government has done to supply the NHS with personal protective equipment (PPE) – including the hilarious claim that the government has counted each individual protective glove given to hospital as a single unit of PPE. Thanks to this inaction and deflection of responsibility, the UK’s death toll is set to surpass that of Spain, Italy and China.

There is a clear contrast between this shambolic response and the actions of the Scottish Government. With limited constitutional powers and a smaller, already strained budget, Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish finance minister, Kate Forbes, announced lockdown measures and support for small businesses before any word from Westminster. The Scottish Government has even gone further than this, funding special programmes surrounding mental health and domestic abuse, two issues of particular importance during lockdown and social isolation.

The question of whether or not Scotland will be able to cut it as an independent nation will, inevitably, be settled based on these events – the ability to organise a coherent and fair response to a crisis in order to protect its people is the most basic responsibility of a nation state, and so far, the Scottish Government has had far more success dealing with the greatest crisis of our times than their “superiors” in London, despite the far smaller number of possibilities available to them. The Scottish government cannot make any decisions regarding the EU, foreign policy or employment and welfare on its own, all areas where the UK’s policymaking has been bungled by the Conservatives while Scotland’s response has been hamstrung by Holyrood’s constitutional relationship with Westminster.

For many years now, the Scottish Government under Nicola Sturgeon has been working hard to establish itself as the government of a future independent nation. The progressive policies of this government before and during this crisis are only a small insight into what sort of nation an independent Scotland could be, given the opportunity to make all of its own decisions on such matters, without the burden of what may be another decade of a reactionary and right wing government.

Writing: Adam Losekoot

Given the recent postponement of the COP26 summit which was due to take place in Glasgow in November of this year, we now have an opportunity to take a closer look at what the initial plans for this event were and how these have been influenced by the tense relationship between the Scottish and UK governments. It is of no surprise to anyone to hear that Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson aren’t exactly close friends. They hail from vastly differing places on the political spectrum and only one of them has been repeatedly fired for deceiving the public and their employers. However, world leaders who disagree with each other should still be able to cooperate on issues both great and small. That is what makes the preparations for COP26 so galling to read about.

The entire process has been riddled with disputes as each side accuses the other of playing politics with the single most important issue of our lifetimes.

The former President of COP26, Claire O’Neill, claimed that the Scottish government had ‘stolen’ a booking for the Glasgow Science Centre which the UK government had made several months prior. In the response to a recent Freedom of Information request we discovered that they had indeed both been wanting the same venue, the Scottish government confirming it as early as November of 2019 whilst Michael Gove didn’t bring up use of the venue until a phone call with the former Finance Minister, Derek Mackay, in January of this year. An offer has since been made by the Scottish government to share the Science Centre and after this was rejected, they offered to hand it over to the UK government on the condition that another, suitable venue be found for the events and displays which the Scottish Government intend to host.

We then discovered that the UK government was looking at the possibility of moving COP to London, though a spokesman for the Prime Minister claimed that the intention was still for the postponed event to be held in Glasgow. However, it certainly wouldn’t be out of character for him to change his mind. Furthermore, when O’Neill suggested to the PM that the First Minister (who has been a guest at the last three COP summits) be given a formal role, it was robustly denied. A witness told The Sun that he said “I’m not being driven out of Scotland by that bloody Wee Jimmy Krankie woman” – an allegation which Johnson’s spokesperson denies. He has also been reported as saying that he doesn’t want Scotland’s First Minister anywhere near the summit being held in her own country.

The above series of events forced the Scottish Greens to weigh in at one point, complaining about the PM’s obsession with union flags rather than constructively cooperating on COP, their leader Patrick Harvie even suggested that Johnson’s real focus was “provoking a spat with the Scottish government”. They have warned both administrations against descending into petty squabbles over the finer details of such a significant summit, fearing a “territorial bun fight”.

It is still unclear who is going to foot the bill for the security costs which are expected to be anything between £200 million and £250 million – something Police Scotland simply cannot afford to cover themselves. Suffice to say, a delay is probably the best thing that could have happened, neither administration appeared ready to host such a significant summit.

Claire O’Neill held the post as President of COP26 for only half a year and was removed from her position in January after criticising both the UK and Scottish governments for having lacklustre approaches to tackling climate change as well as suggesting that the Prime Minister did not understand climate change, nor the severity of the climate crisis. It took weeks to appoint O’Neill’s successor who comes in the form of Alok Sharma (notably he was not the UK government’s first choice, coming in after David Cameron and William Hague - among others - refused the position), currently the secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industry in Boris Johnson’s cabinet. Sharma is somewhat of an unknown factor, fairly new to the front bench though he held the portfolio for international development between July of last year and February. Sharma is in an interesting position, as both COP president and business secretary he is perhaps better situated to enact domestic change than his predecessor, however concerns have been raised by a number of groups, notably Friends of the Earth about whether he will be able to juggle his commitments, citing fears of a potential “part-time president”. He will be responsible for ensuring that the UK is setting a strong example by tackling the climate crisis at home as well as engaging constructively with foreign governments and encouraging other nations to commit to hard hitting targets, building on the significant but flimsy foundations laid in Paris in 2015. The new COP president almost merits a character analysis all of his own, with a varied voting record on climate issues and who has previously publicly supported and opposed the expansion of Heathrow airport. Whether or not he can rise to the challenging but vital responsibilities of his post, remains to be seen.

The UK’s current target is to reduce emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Contrary to this, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) suggests adopting a UK-wide net-zero target for 2050, believing that this will not cause much more damage to the economy than the current 80% target which has been legislated for. According to the CCC, the UK’s emissions were only 44% below 1990 levels in 2018. This is a matter for concern because the more we decrease our emissions, the harder it becomes to decrease them further. We have already mostly phased out coal consumption in order to achieve change on the scale which is necessary to mitigate the consequences of our species’ actions to even the IPCCs best case scenario of only 1.5℃. As we reduce our reliance upon fossil fuels we must find sources of energy to take up the slack, until these are economically viable no more substantial progress can be made. The UK is slightly over half way to its legislated target, less than half way towards the target recommended by the CCC and not remotely near the target necessary to limit global temperature increase to only 2℃. The UK government did meet the requirements of the first three Carbon budgets but they are not expected to achieve the next two carbon budgets and not one of the CCC’s 33 ‘priority areas’ appear to be reducing their exposure and vulnerability to the risks posed by climate change.

The Scottish government boasts some of the most extreme climate legislation and targets in the world, setting a net-zero emissions target for 2045 and a 90% reduction in emissions by 2040. This of course may not be going far enough. It is believed there are approximately 16 years of current emissions rates until we reach the IPCC’s model for a 2℃ warming. The Scottish government’s targets are based on evidence for feasible change from the CCC and are subject to regular review; however, there is not enough physical substance in the plans to achieve this. There is a great deal of information about targets, interim targets and the principles of the ‘just transition’ scheme but so far it stops short of laying out concrete plans for how to achieve said targets.

The Scottish Government was due to publish its climate action plan within the last week, however it has been announced that the plan will not be released until an unspecified time later this year. The environment secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, cited the coronavirus pandemic and a need for "a bit of time to ensure the policies and proposals that we do put forward will reflect the new economic and social realities post-pandemic". Holyrood is very good at discussing climate change but sometimes risks being caught up in bureaucracy. This is not to suggest they have not also made significant progress, laying the foundations for much of the necessary work in the form of the new Scottish National Investment Bank. The government claims that: “The Bank’s primary mission will be to support Scotland’s transition to net zero carbon emissions through a range of debt and equity products.” Though it will be some time before it is ready to do this, with the Scottish Government planning to invest £2 billion over the next 10 years in order to capitalise the bank.

In 2019, renewable sources of energy accounted for 90% of Scotland’s gross electricity consumption. This is of course an excellent sign of progress yet emissions still remain worryingly high. Transport needs to become more environmentally friendly. Pre-covid that meant using public transport where possible, but we are now being urged to avoid these forms of transportation where possible until the current crisis has passed. As such a further focus on remote working until low-emissions (or preferably zero-emissions) vehicles are economically viable may be necessary across the UK.

Officially, COP is organised by the UK government and Holyrood doesn’t have much, if any influence; the lead up to the event has been fraught with disputes over various details. This is deeply concerning. If the two administrations are unable to put their constitutional disagreements and general dislike for each other to the side, then it does not bode well for the future of this already strained relationship or the exponentially more important issue of the UK’s response to the climate crisis. In their statement to the Scottish government, the CCC said that “Scotland’s ability to deliver its net-zero target is contingent on action taken in the UK, and vice versa”. The road to COP26 looks intensely challenging, and with so many difficulties here at home it remains unclear whether or not those in charge of the event will be able to create and steer the international agreements and commitments which we so desperately need to come from this summit.

Writing: Adam Losekoot

The current crisis has given us all a great deal of time to think and reflect upon current events and how our various leaders have been handling these challenges, and after such reflection I have come to what I believe is a fairly concrete conclusion: Never before have the contrasts between the Scottish and UK governments been greater, particularly with regards to communication.

Where the scottish government has remained consistent in it’s simple messaging and focus on having a ‘grown up conversation’ with everyone listening, answering each and every question at the daily briefings and working constructively with other groups, parties and countries (we need only look at the plane which arrived from China on Sunday 19th April carrying over 10 million pieces of PPE for Scottish healthcare workers to see proof of this - a further plane has since landed carrying additional equipment) to help deal with the challenges we currently find ourselves facing. A few hundred miles to the south meanwhile, our illustrious PM seems to have committed himself to the opposite. His government has opted out of EU initiatives to collectively source PPE and develop strategies to counter this virus, citing Brexit as a good enough excuse to isolate Britain more and more from the rest of the world. We could be mistaken for assuming that Johnson’s disregard for the EU and commitment to Brexit comes before any other policy - even in times such as these.

To build on this, our understanding of the events regarding the EU Joint Procurements scheme and the UK’s (lack of) involvement seems to be changing on an almost daily basis. At first, we were told they didn’t know anything about it. Then the government said they didn’t get the email. Then they claimed they had gotten the email but hadn’t seen it until it was too late. Next the story was that they had seen the email in time but had decided not to get involved. And now it turns out that the UK government participated in the first 4 meetings before changing their minds. This story is changing faster than the rules to a child’s game of tig. As it stands at time of writing, we know that the government was involved in these meetings for a period of time and the European Commission has clearly stated that the UK was fully aware of the coronavirus Joint Procurement initiative back at the end of January and our leaders then decided not to participate. Why they decided not to participate isn’t clear yet and Downing Street is yet to abandon the narrative that it was ‘an accident’ despite strong evidence to the contrary.

Furthermore, the damning article from The Times which exposes the Prime Minister for failing to attend no less than 5 COBRA meetings in February, preferring to spend his time in Chequers instead has just been released. This amongst numerous other counts of Johnson’s dereliction of his duties to the public which he claims to represent, suggests an utter lack of anything resembling care or empathy for the people of the UK. Luckily, they sent out the most competent, calm, consistent person to reassure us that this was completely normal, the PM had still been up to date on everything that was going on and could still lead the country effectively no matter where he was – is what I wish I could say. Instead they gave us Michael Gove. He appeared on Andrew Marr where he assured us that everything was actually okay because the article made some points that were “a little bit off-beam”. Thank goodness for that. Here I was, concerned that the Prime Minister couldn’t bring himself to attend 5 COBRA meetings as the looming prospect of a global health crisis became increasingly urgent instead whittling away precious time to get ahead of the virus at his holiday home and not, you know, making preparations for that global health crisis thing.

The Prime Minister has been even more absent over the last few weeks and months than during the General Election. This includes the period of time before he was reported to have contracted Covid-19, in which he was hardly a fixture at his own briefings, instead we have been treated to a who’s-who of Tory ministers in some bizarre decision which we can only assume was decided by pulling straws. Scotland’s First Minister on the other hand has held almost all of her own briefings (the only exceptions to this are the Sunday briefings which are held by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman), even online versions of First Ministers Questions and questions to the Health Secretary from the other Scottish party leaders and equivalents since this began. The Scottish government established a helpline very early on in the outbreak for healthcare workers to voice concerns and place orders for the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which they so vitally need and thankfully managed to prevent some of the shortages of such equipment which have been seen in England recently.

Following the PMs discharge from hospital, I for one was intrigued to see what he would say in his first briefing. To hear how he would reassure our 4 countries and assure the public that his government would be working day and night to see off this pandemic. To hear him apologise for the disgusting way his party has treated the NHS and promise to put it right following all they had done for him – instead he fucked off to Chequers. Other public servants who have been seen to be flaunting government advice and travelling to holiday homes have been spoken to by the police and made to apologise publicly. The same public outrage that Scotland’s former Chief Medical Officer (quite rightly) faced for the same action should now be directed at the Prime Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon’s government, meanwhile, has set up a taskforce to look into how best to reopen the country and the economy once this is all over and is resisting the ‘advice’ from certain individuals (cough, cough, Toby Young, cough, cough) within the media who think we should all go back to work and school tomorrow. In Sturgeon and the Scottish government we have something which is under threat in western democracies; something which the far right often (wrongly) claim a moratorium on; something which the UK government and their role models in the United States are either sorely lacking or perhaps just ashamedly slow to embrace: common sense. It shouldn’t be radical to want to keep people alive. It shouldn’t be radical to listen to the scientists and experts Gove stupidly claimed we were all sick of in 2016, least of all when we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Furthermore, from the Scottish Government we are receiving that most basic of rights which all governments owe their citizens: Transparency. At the Scottish government briefings there is no dodging of questions, there is no false hope, no blustering, no waffle. If, and when, the First Minister and the advisers she shares the podium with don’t know the answer to a question, they say that. They explain why they have made their decisions and respond to questions in detail and at length. Rather than the soundbites and talking points we are bombarded with at 5pm each day. The National Records of Scotland figures for deaths in Scotland are reported to the public on a weekly basis and these include deaths where Covid-19 is suspected, not just confirmed cases and not just deaths in hospitals. This is the kind of breakdown we need to be seeing at a UK level.

Rather than shouting about ‘British Bulldog Spirit’ and telling us to ‘take it on the chin’ the Scottish government are doing their jobs and paying heed to what the scientists are saying. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) are a small group of scientists who are advising the UK government on how to handle the pandemic – yet Johnson’s cabinet ministers are refusing to divulge what their discussions are, refusing to release the minutes of their meetings and for far too long refused even to release who is on the group. The few members we were aware of had come out publicly of their own accord – with the exception of England’s chief medical officer and the government’s chief scientific officer (who we’d assume would have been involved anyway so it doesn’t really count for much).Since the full list has come out however, we have made the rather stark discovery that, naturally, Dominic Cummings is a part of this ‘independent’ group. To put it simply, there is no place for a spin doctor in a room full of experts discussing the best strategy to counter a global pandemic, a virus cannot be beaten with slogans, soundbites and smear campaigns - he should not be there. Now it has to be considered if he has enough influence to be changing the focus of these discussions and ensuring that he is not altering any policies or ruling out certain strategies to counter the virus which may turn public opinion against the PM. Previously, SAGE have published information and papers on the outbreak, releasing evidence for the importance of a lockdown as recently as 26 March, but there has been nothing since. Why are we not allowed to know what they have been discussing? The government claims it is an issue of national security and they are right, but for once we are all on the same side: there isn’t anyone who is actually backing the virus. Releasing even a loose breakdown of some of the information and conclusions SAGE have reached won’t tip Covid-19 off about how they plan to suppress it. The government has been asked to release this information repeatedly, yet when Matt Hancock was asked this very question the day parliament reopened by Labour’s shadow health secretary, he sidestepped it entirely. Surely it would help people better understand the guidance and restrictions that the government has to impose in order to protect people? Surely it would mean people were less resistant to these necessary measures, making the jobs of all frontline workers easier and safer?

Until they do release this information, we can only guess at what the reasons are. Let us never forget that this is the government who, for an ashamedly long time, refused to deviate from their focus on a herd immunity strategy which has been reported to be contrary to much of the scientific advice the government as receiving, committing instead to let the virus rip through the population – exposing the ill, the frail and the immunocompromised. This is the government who knew that this meant condemning an unspeakable number of people; mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children rather than let the economy or their stocks take a hit. This is the government which has been found to be operating at least 128 fake twitter accounts posing as real NHS staff (using pictures of genuine current and former NHS staff) which were pushing support for this same herd immunity policy.

This is a global crisis, the decisions our political leaders make now, and how they interact with the public, the information they share and how honest they are has never been so important. Politics and tribalism cannot continue as normal during this period and I recognise that may sound hypocritical coming at the end of everything I have said up to this point, but we must remain critical of our governments and hold them to account. The Scottish government has not been perfect either; it took time to build up provisions of PPE and to set up the systems which are, so far, working to prevent shortages. The return of parliament and Prime Minister’s Questions is certainly welcome but the Prime Minister’s absence should be utterly condemned. The fact that Johnson has taken so long to emerge from Chequers, avoiding his fellow parliamentarians, the public or the media is unacceptable. We need our politicians and leaders to be present and working harder than they ever have been before. More than anything, we need transparency.

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