A Grownup Conversation?

This week’s attempt of the Scottish Government to start a grown up conversation on how we deal with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis is most welcome, to the extent to which it goes, which is not far enough.

I have lot time and respect for Nicola, and I have been a loyal SNP voter for over 20 years. But when it comes to this crisis even I am beginning to lose patience with the Scottish Government’s reluctance to break away from the ideologically driven policies of England’s Prime Minister and the ineffectual English Parliament.

For there can be no doubt that ideology is at the bottom of the present UK crisis. The current state of the NHS and the lack of epidemic readiness, those are the products of a decade of ‘Compassionate Conservatism’. And for all that talk of ‘best scientific advice’, even without today’s revelation that Cummings takes part in SAGE meetings the ideological paw prints on the No 10 handling of the crisis have been evident since the beginning, the herd immunity strategy a convenient solution to the growing costs of social and medical care.

Furthermore, I know many scientists don’t want to hear this, but science is not apolitical. No human endeavour is, the very assertion of being apolitical is in itself a profound political statement. We only need to look back a bit to see how science is marked by politics: alongside the long list of amazing scientific advances of the 20th century comes a long list of scientists who ended up on the wrong side of history, working for unsavoury ideological causes, both left and right.

Science costs money, lots of money. An in our world money is concentrated in the hands of a very few who pull the strings of power; democracy, as we know it in the west today, is an illusion, in reality we live in a plutocracy. The plutocrats are the people who will emerge from this crisis richer at the expense of the rest of us, and they are the people who shape the focus and direction of scientific endeavour. It is for this reason that the science the Government appeals to must be open to scrutiny, for science without peer review is no science at all, but mere alchemy.

The problem with having a grown up conversation is that it needs to lead to grown up answers, and in this instance there is only one such an answer, and we have know what it is since the beginning: mass testing, rigorous contact tracing and targeted precision isolation. This is the only viable way we can get from where we are to the point where a vaccine might fix this problem permanently.

The vaccine solution is a long way away, for it’s not just how long the science of developing effective safe vaccine might take, but also a question of costs (some people will be getting very rich of this, make no mistake), and mass global vaccination of some 7 billion people (for vaccination to be effective, around 70% of population must receive it) — I’d be very surprised if life is back to any sort of normality before 2025.

Ongoing mass lockdown is not a solution. So if we are to have an adult conversation, the first thing we need to discuss is why, three months into this thing, we are still no where near being able to test, trace and isolate. And no more alchemy bullshit, please.