Covid-19 Will Save the Union | John Power
Unionists have been gripped with despair for the last few months. A narrative, one of defeatism, has sprung up around Nicola Sturgeon and her performance during the pandemic. It presents her, and the SNP as an invincible political force. At press conference after press conference, her consistent and serious composure seem to present an irresistible contrast with Johnsonian bumbling and incompetency. If Johnson comes out of lockdown on Wednesday, she comes out on Friday, proving how much more seriously she is taking the pandemic. Polling would seem to suggest that this strategy is working in favour of independence.
Fraser Nelson, the editor of the Spectator, argues eloquently that Scottish Nationalism is a force which cannot be checked by statistics. Issues where Unionists are confident, structural fiscal deficits and trade, will have little sway during a second referendum. Scottish nationalism, like arguments in favour of sovereignty made during the Brexit referendum, has an emotional potency which will overwhelm economic and factual reasoning.
It is important at this point to distinguish, in importance, economic statistics from other statistics. Let’s return to Brexit, and focus on the Vote Leave campaign. There is some truth to the claim that Vote Leave sought to systematically undermine the veracity of economic statistics, presenting analysis by the Treasury as ‘project fear’. The public do not seem to respond to grim economic forecasts, as shown recently by persistent high levels of support for lockdowns in the face of increasingly dire economic forecasting.
Project fear is not evidence that statistics are not capable of cutting through. The now infamous ‘£350 million a week for the NHS’ red bus provided a statistic with undeniable cut-through. So too, did Vote Leave’s assertion that Turkey was about to join the European Union, entitling its 76 million citizens to live and work in the UK. Vote Leave’s most effective tactic, was to employ statistics, crafted effectively to connect voters with emotionally resonant issues, and promote these numbers relentlessly.
Mrs Sturgeon has boxed herself into a corner with Coronavirus. Her political strategy has been to present herself as a competent barrier which has protected Scotland from Mr Johnson’s bumbling incompetence. Her philosophy towards Covid has been that tighter restrictions lead to lower cases and deaths. This means that, implicitly, there would be a direct causal link between government incompetence and a high number of deaths when compared to other governments around the world.
What are those numbers going to say? Here is what we know so far. The United Kingdom, as of December 14th, had recorded 64,170 deaths. The population of the United Kingdom is 66.5 million people. That means that currently, 0.096% of the population has died from Covid-19 in Britain. For Scotland, that same metric is 0.108%. That means that Nicola Sturgeon has performed not only worse than Boris Johnson, but also Donald Trump in the United States, where the same figure is 0.093%. Of the countries in the top 5 worse fatality rates, only Italy comes close, coming in at 0.107%.
The reason that Unionists should stop getting down about the Union is that Nicola Sturgeon has completely destroyed her political credibility during the pandemic. These numbers may shift slightly, but unless something extraordinary happens, Unionists will be able to say at the next referendum, that under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership Scotland performed worse than the United States under Donald Trump. That, more than the ancient arguments about tariffs and shared sovereignty, will provide the ammunition with which to keep the Union together.