Covid debate shows why England is another country and I’m happy to live in Scotland – Tommy Sheppard MP

We hoped for better than that, but the coronavirus mutation had other ideas.

We know enough now to say that Omicron is less severe than its predecessors. Perhaps we are now on a trajectory where each successive wave damages us less and less.

The pandemic will turn into an endemic viral disease. By the time we get to Omega, for most of us these viruses might just be a seasonal inconvenience.

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But we are not there yet. And in the meantime, it’s better to be safe than sorry. As much as I don’t want theaters closed and pubs and restaurants quarter-full, I would rather that than see our NHS unable to cope and our emergency services compromised.

So, I’m happy to live in Scotland. I am glad that we have a leader who listens to scientific advice and takes decisive action to protect public health. At least the Scottish government is taking responsibility and doing what it can to compensate the businesses affected.

This is not the first time that England has looked like another country. There, hesitation and delay are the order of the day. And that’s counterproductive. If you run a room, is it better for the government to say that you don’t have to shut down but to scare your customers away?

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Scotland is fortunate to have someone, like Nicola Sturgeon, in charge who listens to scientific advice and takes decisive action to protect public health (Photo: Russell Cheyne / pool / AFP via Getty Images)

Why this procrastination? Well, like Brexit and many other things, because of an internal dispute in the Conservative Party.

Two weeks ago, 100 Tory MPs – half of their backbenchers – voted against even the small steps Johnson introduced in England before Christmas. Among their ranks are shocking viewpoints. Take Joy Morrisey MP. She decried the measures as those of a “socialist state of public health”.

His comments give us some insight into conservative thinking. It is true that public health mandates are a constraint on individual freedom. For most of us, this is as it should be.

But for the right wing of the Conservative Party, the freedom of individuals to do whatever they want regardless of the consequences for others is paramount. The freedom to exploit people for low wages. The freedom to pollute. The freedom to incite hatred.

For most of us, individual freedoms are balanced by social responsibility. This is why we pay part of our wages in taxes, why we don’t drive drunk, and why we isolate ourselves when we have an infectious disease.

For me, this also applies to countries. I look forward to resetting our politics and giving the Scots the choice of a better way to govern themselves.

I want Scotland to become politically independent so that we have the freedom to run things the way we want. But I accept that we also have responsibilities to others, starting with the good people in England, currently being treated like toys by the conservative right.

We share this island and whether it’s marine protection, intercity travel, climate action or a host of other issues, we need to work together in a better partnership.

Independence gives us this opportunity. Far from separating us, it will be the basis of an engagement with others on an equal footing. So, happy new year when it comes. Let’s make it better.

Tommy Sheppard is SNP MP for Edinburgh East

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